Celebrating 100 years of innovation: ALK’s pioneering legacy in allergy medicine 

Since its humble beginnings when the two founders of ALK, physician Peter Barfod and pharmacist Kaj Baagøe, produced and documented the first pharmaceutically allergen extract 100 years ago, the Danish pharmaceutical company has been a pioneer in the field of allergy solutions. Since the 1980s, ALK has been part of DTU Science Park, and today the company is world-leading in allergy immunotherapy treatments and diagnostics.  On 9 June, ALK celebrated its 100th anniversary. While the company has experienced both ups and downs in the last 100 years, ALK has, in recent years, been in a period of growth and expansion whilst still being in line with the company’s backbone of a pioneering spirit.

World-leading in allergy immunotherapy   

Allergic diseases are among the most chronic illnesses in the world, and between 400-500 million worldwide suffer from allergies, which can lead to limitations in daily life. While many regularly take symptom-suppressing over-the-counter medicines that can provide temporary relief, they do not address the underlying cause of the allergies.   

For many, the solution could be allergy immunotherapy – in lay terms, an allergy vaccine – given in repeated doses, thereby stimulating an immune response in the body which causes the patient to build up an immunological tolerance. ALK is world-leading in allergy immunotherapy treatments and diagnostics and was the first pharmaceutical company in the world to develop a tablet vaccine.   

Today, ALK’s product portfolio covers five tablet species for grass, birch, related tree species, ragweed, Japanese cedar and dust mites, as well as injections for bees, wasps, livestock, cat and dog. ALK’s pharmaceutical products are sold in close to 50 different countries around the world with Europe, North America, China and Japan being the main markets.  

Expansion plans and new market opportunities  

ALK has been in a period of growth and expansion in the last couple of years. The business is growing by approx. 10 % annually, and ALK expects to continue growing at a similar rate. This is crucial for the company, which has many plans to expand the current tablet production capacity, upgrade existing production facilities, and research and develop new allergy treatments. 

“Currently, we are focusing on two important projects; One is we anticipate obtaining approval for our dust mite tablet in China, which will open up a new market opportunity for us. Secondly, we have obtained positive study results with our HDM-tablet in children, and we also hope to get a positive outcome of another clinical study with our tree tablets in children,” Christian G. Houghton, Executive Vice President, Product Supply, at ALK, says.   

The significance of these endeavours cannot be overstated, as they play a vital role in maintaining ALK’s high growth rate and working towards the company’s ambitious goal of achieving a turnover (EBIT margin) of 25 % by 2025.   

Beyond business objectives, ALK places great importance on employee satisfaction and well-being. The company prides itself on scoring high in employee satisfaction surveys and is highly committed to fostering a positive and engaging work environment.

DTU Science Park supports our growth ambitions and values  

For ALK, it is crucial that the location, facilities and surrounding community can support the company’s growth ambitions and values. Since 1986, ALK has been situated in DTU Science Park in Hørsholm, where approximately 800 employees go to work every day. For ALK, the location aligns perfectly with the company’s mission and values, and according to Christian G. Houghton, the company could not be situated anywhere else.  

“First of all, by being part of DTU Science Park, we are located in a scenic area surrounded by nature and wildlife. ALK has a phrase that says “From Farm To Pharma” because we cultivate allergenic raw materials in nature, such as pollen, to produce our finished pharmaceutical products. So, in terms of what we stand for as a company, it feels right for us to be situated amid nature”, he says.

We lease our buildings and are expanding further in DTU Science Park by the end of the year, which also provides us flexibility when it comes to expanding our activities in Denmark. Finally, there are some events like the Sports Festival [the Sports Festival is an annual sports event for all companies in DTU Science Park], where we compete with other companies in the science park, and we have enjoyed participating in those events over the years.

Christian G. Houghton
Executive Vice President, Product Supply, ALK 

Four significant milestones i ALK history

1923: The first manufactured allergen extract

Physician Kaj Baagøe and pharmacist Peter Barfod (co-founders of ALK) produce Denmark’s first pharmaceutically manufactured allergen extract at Copenhagen University Hospital. 

1978: Standardisation process 

ALK develops a standardisation process that makes it possible to determine the potency of allergen extracts in SQ units. This becomes a prerequisite for conducting clinical development and establishing a treatment dose that is both safe and effective, paving the way for the launch of ALK’s first standardised allergen product, Alutard.

1989: New owner

The Lundbeck Foundation becomes the major shareholder of ALK. 

2006: The first allergy immunotheraphy tablet

In 2006, ALK’s first allergy immunotheraphy tablet, GRAZAX®, was approved in Europe. This paved the way for the development and registration of the rest of ALK’s tablet portfolio, which now accounts for approx. 50 % of its revenue  

The innovative and pioneering spirit is the backbone of ALK 

Despite being the leading pharmaceutical company in the world in allergy immunotherapy treatment, ALK is very aware that its success lies in staying true to the company’s roots which were built on the two co-founders’ innovative and pioneering spirits.  

“We must continue to be relevant for people with allergies, and despite still having many of our oldest products that sell well, we must constantly consider the unmet needs of people with allergies,” Christian G. Houghton says.   

For ALK, having the Lundbeck Foundation becoming the major shareholder in 1989 has had significant importance, as it has provided ALK with the necessary support, expertise and patience from an owner that understands that the development of medications takes time and that you do not always get a home run on the first take. As a result, ALK continues investing in research and development, expanding its product portfolio, and explored new avenues in allergy treatment, thereby staying true to its innovative and pioneering roots – the company’s backbone. 

Christian G. Houghton, Executive Vice President, Product Supply, and member of the board of management at ALK   

100th anniversary: A reminder to always remain relevant  

In 2023, ALK celebrates its 100th anniversary – a huge milestone for the Danish pharmaceutical company and, according to Christian G. Houghton, an achievement that serves as an important reminder

“Sustainability has become an important concept used in many contexts, and being able to celebrate 100 years is a great symbol of being part of something very sustainable. Looking back at ALK’s history, our innovation and creativity in various areas have been the key factors that have allowed us to reach this 100-year milestone. It should remind us all that we must not rest on our laurels but think ahead and consider how we remain relevant to allergy sufferers worldwide. In simple terms, we need to continuously innovate and improve in order to sustain ourselves,” he says.

For Executive Vice President, Product Supply, Christian G. Houghton, the anniversary has also given him a personal, amusing experience, as he discovered that his great-grandmother’s cousin was the co-founder of ALK, Kaj Baagøe.

The 100th-anniversary was marked with a reception on 9 June for customers, suppliers and friends of the house, as well as a private party for all employees in the evening.

In relation to the anniversary, the book ‘ALK – 100 years of pioneering allergy solutions’ has been published about the history of ALK and a five-part podcast series called ‘The Hunt for Vaccine’.

ALK's history 

ALK was founded in 1923 by pharmacist Peter Barfod and physician Kaj Baagøe who produced Denmark’s first allergen extract at Rigshospitalet on 9 June 1923 after Kaj Baagøe returned from the USA in 1921 with a recipe for making allergen extracts. The first product was a goose feather extract because the feathers in duvets and pillows were believed to be causing allergies. Later studies showed that it was actually dust mites in the bedding that caused allergies. Five years later, in 1928, Peter Barfoed took over Frihavns Apotek in Copenhagen, where he established the production of allergen extracts. Over time, the business expanded, and in 1949, the production of allergen extracts was separated into a new company called Allergologisk Laboratorium København (abbreviated to ALK), which became a joint-stock company in 1961 with a share capital of DKK 50,000.   

In 1976, ALK introduced a standardization process, which allowed the determination of the strength of an allergen extract in so-called SQ units. This paved the way for ALK to launch its first standardized allergen product in 1978, called Alutard, and in 1989, the Lundbeck Foundation became the major shareholder in the company.   

Since the 1980s, mergers, acquisitions and expansions have shaped ALK, and in 2023, ALK employs 2,700 people worldwide, is represented in 47 countries and has seven production facilities worldwide.  


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