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Lotte Bjerre Knudsen was still getting used to all the empty benches in her lab when she ran into a tall man with black wide-framed glasses in the hallway: Mads Krogsgaard Thomsen, the new head of research at the Danish drugmaker Novo Nordisk, and her new boss. He was just one of many changes she had found upon returning from maternity leave earlier that week — along with the departures of nearly every colleague with whom she had spent the last three years struggling to create a potential blockbuster medicine.

Thomsen got right to the point. Her team had failed to wrestle a gut hormone called GLP-1 into a new kind of drug for diabetes. Management was giving them one more shot. And by them, he meant her. “You need to figure out what to do with GLP-1,” he said. “And it has to be now.”


Knudsen went back to her office on the outskirts of Copenhagen, closed the door, and in the silence, got to work.

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