There continues to be a gold rush around weight loss drugs in the pharmaceutical sector, with several major players releasing new data in June for what promises to be the next frontier in obesity treatment: a daily weight loss pill.
Novo Nordisk has released phase three clinical trial results for a high-dose semaglutide tablet—the same drug used in the injectable (and incredibly popular) Wegovy and Ozempic treatments. The results showed subjects receiving the semaglutide tablet lost 15% of their total starting body weight after 17 months versus just a 2.4% decrease for those on the placebo.1 Novo Nordisk will seek FDA approval for this oral treatment later this year.
At the same time, Eli Lilly is in phase three clinical trials for its oral weight loss drug, orforglipron. Stage two results, also released in June, show that subjects receiving the orforglipron tablet lost 14.7% of their total starting body weight after nine months versus just a 2.3% decrease for those on the placebo.2
Given its comparable effectiveness to Novo Nordisk’s tablet, many analysts expect Eli Lilly’s drug to have a competitive advantage—the same results in half the time—if these results hold up during the phase three trial.3
This news comes as Eli Lilly & Co became the largest pharmaceutical company in the world by market value in June. An 8.5% gain in share price in May put the company’s market cap around $408 billion. Marking a third straight month of gains for Eli Lilly, the company’s shares have been driven up by announcements that its diabetes drug Mounjaro is effective against obesity and news that its new Alzheimer’s treatment succeeded in a final-stage trial.4
And across the industry, recent figures from Stifel, Nicolas & Co. show that mergers and acquisitions in biotech have finally shaken its three-year-long slump. For the year so far, the sector has seen nearly $90 billion in deals done, compared to just $127 billion in all of 2022. Analysts project that the volume of deals will reach as high as $208 billion this year, meaning the sector is on pace for its third-highest M&A year of the last ten years.5
Specific Updates on Companies
Novartis AG agreed to buy Vancouver- and Seattle-based Chinook Therapeutics Inc. for $3.2 billion US in June, largely on the strength of two drugs the company has developed to treat a rare kidney disease. Chinook shareholders also have the potential to earn another $4 a share if the company meets additional milestones prior to regulatory approval, which would bring the deal to $3.5 billion when it closes in the second half of the year.
Chinook has pioneered two drugs—atrasentan and zigakibart—for the treatment of IgA nephropathy, also known as Berger’s disease, which causes inflammation and fibrosis in the kidneys, ultimately leading to kidney failure. There are an estimated 500,000+ sufferers in the U.S. and Europe, with millions more throughout Japan and Asia.6
Chinook reported promising preliminary results from both drugs in 2022 and released follow-up data this June. The results of the ongoing phase 1/2 study of zigakibart show that the drug is well-tolerated and that it promotes rapid, sustained, and clinically meaningful reductions in biomarkers for IgA nephropathy. Levels were reduced 67% at 76 weeks of treatment and 72% by 100 weeks of treatment.7 A large efficacy trial for atrasentan will report results next year, but preliminary data (also released in June) shows it is generally well tolerated in healthy volunteers.8
Novo Nordisk A/S
Novo Nordisk A/S announced in June that it was in exclusive negotiations to take a controlling stake in BIOCORP that would see the French biotech company delisted and absorbed into Novo Nordisk. The deal is worth 154 million Euros.
BIOCORP specialises in medical delivery systems and devices, including Mallya, an innovative Bluetooth-enabled smart add-on device for pen injectors, including the Novo Nordisk FlexTouch pen used by people with diabetes. Novo Nordisk and Mallya have been collaborating since 2021 on commercialising Mallya for the diabetes market as well as other therapy areas.
Novo Nordisk plans to maintain the “agility and entrepreneurial spirit of BIOCORP,” while leveraging their cutting-edge devices in markets around the globe to serve those with serious chronic diseases.9
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Portfolio Strategy and Activity
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- Knop, F., Aroda, V., et al., “Oral semaglutide 50 mg taken once per day in adults with overweight or obesity (OASIS 1): a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, phase 3 trial,” The Lancet, June 25, 2023; https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(23)01185-6/fulltext
- “Lilly’s phase 2 results published in the New England Journal of Medicine show orforglipron, a once-daily oral nonpeptide GLP-1 receptor agonist, achieved up to 14.7% mean weight reduction at 36 weeks in adults with obesity or overweight,” Eli Lilly, June 23, 2023; https://investor.lilly.com/news-releases/news-release-details/lillys-phase-2-results-published-new-england-journal-medicine
- Constantino, A.K., “As drugmakers race to develop the next big weight loss pill, Eli Lilly may have an edge,” CNBC, June 28, 2023; https://www.cnbc.com/2023/06/28/eli-lilly-pfizer-novo-nordisk-weight-loss-pills.html
- Adegbesan, A. & Langreth, R., “Obesity Shot Frenzy Makes Eli Lilly World’s Most Valuable Drugmaker,” Bloomberg, May 31, 2023; https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2023-05-31/obesity-shot-frenzy-makes-lilly-lly-world-s-most-valuable-drugmaker
- Silcoff, S., “Novartis buys Chinook for US$3.2-billion, latest in string of big exits for Canadian biotechs,” The Globe and Mail, June 12, 2023; https://www.theglobeandmail.com/business/article-novartis-to-buy-chinook-drug-developer/
- “Chinook Therapeutics to Present Updated Data from Zigakibart (Bion-1301) Phase 1/2 Trial in Patients with IgA Nephropathy (IgAN) at the 60th European Renal Association (ERA) Congress,” Chinook Therapeutics, June 12, 2023; https://investors.chinooktx.com/news-releases/news-release-details/chinook-therapeutics-present-updated-data-zigakibart-bion-1301
- “Chinook Therapeutics Presents Data from CHK-336 Phase 1 Trial in Healthy Volunteers and New Insights into the Role of Failed Repair in Chronic Kidney Disease at the 60th European Renal Association (ERA) Congress,” Chinook Therapeutics, June 17, 2023; https://investors.chinooktx.com/news-releases/news-release-details/chinook-therapeutics-presents-data-chk-336-phase-1-trial-healthy
- “Novo Nordisk enters exclusive negotiations to acquire a controlling stake in BIOCORP, to be followed by a tender offer on all remaining shares,” Novo Nordisk, June 5, 2023; https://www.novonordisk.com/content/nncorp/global/en/news-and-media/news-and-ir-materials/news-details.html?id=166114