General Industry Update

Alongside the boom in GLP-1 drug therapies for obesity, artificial intelligence (AI) is the other big story in pharmaceuticals today.

Alphabet’s Google DeepMind AI is perhaps the best-known AI working on pharmaceutical problems today. As announced in May of this year, Google DeepMind has made significant strides with its latest version of AlphaFold, advancing human understanding of molecular interactions crucial to drug discovery. AlphaFold previously stunned the scientific community by predicting the structures of 200 million proteins. The new iteration goes further by revealing how proteins interact with other molecules like DNA and RNA, a critical step in developing new drug therapies.

For example, scientists can compare AlphaFold’s static predictions of the normal and mutated structures of proteins to better understand disease mechanisms. Novartis and Eli Lilly (both held by the Fund) have partnered with Isomorphic Labs, a DeepMind offshoot, to leverage advances such as these in drug discovery.

AlphaFold 3 represents a significant step towards a future where we can comprehensively model entire cellular environments and predict molecular interactions. However, while AI can propose promising drug candidates, these must still undergo rigorous laboratory and human testing, which remains a long and complex process. While early clinical stages show AI-invented drugs outperforming human-invented ones, safety studies and clinical trials remain essential.

Max Jaderberg, Isomorphic Labs’ chief AI officer, revealed plans for additional tools to complement AlphaFold in drug development. These advancements could attract more pharmaceutical partnerships and help realize the company’s vision of a multi-billion-dollar enterprise.

Ultimately, the success of AI in drug discovery will depend on its ability to accelerate and reduce costs in developing effective medicines. The true measure of its impact will come from human trials and approved drugs, indicating we are still years away from fully grasping AI’s role in combating human disease. Nevertheless, the rapid evolution of this technology suggests its potential is immense.¹

Company Specific Updates

Amgen Inc

Amgen had a big May with positive news about its weight loss injection drug, MariTide, and its treatment for small-cell lung cancer.

During a Q1 earnings call, Amgen CEO Bob Bradway discussed promising mid-stage study results on MariTide, highlighting the drug’s potential to meet significant unmet medical needs. Bradway also emphasized MariTide’s competitive edge, particularly its monthly or less frequent dosing via a hand-held autoinjector, compared to the weekly injections of Novo Nordisk’s Wegovy and Eli Lilly’s Zepbound. There were no patient dropouts from the study, and Amgen plans to release initial data later this year.²

Also in May, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Amgen’s Imdelltra for advanced small-cell lung cancer patients. This therapy is cleared as a second or later-line treatment, meaning it is available for patients whose cancer progresses after initial treatment, typically chemotherapy. Clinical trials demonstrated that Imdelltra reduces tumour growth and extends the lifespan of small-cell lung cancer patients. The five-year survival rate for these patients is grim at just 3% of those with metastasized cancer surviving.

The FDA’s approval follows a phase two trial involving over 200 patients, where tumours shrank in 40% of participants receiving a 10-milligram dose biweekly. Median survival time with Imdelltra was 14.3 months, compared to six to twelve months with existing treatments. Amgen plans further trials to explore Imdelltra as an earlier treatment option and a first-line therapy for advanced cases.³

Pfizer Inc

Pfizer’s lung cancer drug Lorbrena significantly extends survival for patients with a rare form of the disease, according to recent research. A follow-up to a phase 3 clinical trial published in May shows that 60% of patients treated with Lorbrena survived for five years, compared to just 8% of those receiving crizotinib, another Pfizer drug. The findings were presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s annual meeting in Chicago and published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Dr. John Heymach from the MD Anderson Cancer Center, who was not involved in the study, hailed the results as unprecedented. “For the first time, we are seeing most patients go more than five years without their cancer progressing,” said Heymach. Prior treatments only offered two to three years of progression-free survival.

The study also revealed that Lorbrena drastically reduces the risk of brain metastasis, with patients being nearly 95% less likely to experience cancer spread to the brain compared to those on crizotinib. This efficacy is attributed to Lorbrena’s ability to cross the blood-brain barrier, a capability not all drugs possess, making it a breakthrough in treating and preventing brain metastasis in lung cancer patients.⁴

LIFE ETF: Investing in Global Healthcare

Investing in ETFs can be one way to add cutting-edge healthcare to your portfolio.

Evolve Global Healthcare Enhanced Yield Fund (LIFE ETF) provides investors with exposure to twenty global blue-chip companies in the healthcare industry, with a covered call strategy that is actively managed to provide increased yield potential while helping mitigate risk. For more information about the Evolve Global Healthcare Enhanced Yield Fund or any of Evolve ETF’s lineup of exchange-traded funds, please visit our website or contact us.

Portfolio Strategy and Activity

For the month, Vertex Pharmaceuticals made the largest contribution to the Fund, followed by Pfizer Inc and Amgen Inc. The largest detractors to performance for the month were Bristol Myers Squibb, followed by Abbott Laboratories and Merck & Co Inc.



  1. Jarvis, L., “Inventing Drugs Is One of the Most Exciting Uses of AI,” Bloomberg, May 9, 2024;
  2. Constantino, A.K., “Amgen stock soars on weight loss injection progress as Novo Nordisk, Eli Lilly shares slide,” CNBC, May 3, 2024;
  3. Constantino, A.K., “FDA approves Amgen’s treatment for most deadly form of lung cancer,” CNBC, May 16, 2024;
  4. Sullivan, K. & Lovelace Jr., B., “Pfizer’s Lorbrena extends life for patients with rare lung cancer,” NBC News, May 31, 2024;

Header image source: Getty Images Credit: MF3d

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