Diabetes drugs like the GLP-1s Ozempic and Wegovy from Novo Nordisk and Mounjaro and Zepbound from Eli Lilly have taken the pharma world by storm, launching huge financial gains and a cultural obsession with the treatments’ weight loss capabilities.
With the enormous potential of obesity drugs becoming clear in the marketplace, Novo and Lilly aren’t alone in their pursuit of delivering treatments that lead to significant weight loss. And as the companies struggle to meet demand for their drugs, the window is still wide open for fellow Big Pharma companies to tap into the surging market.
Among those with weight loss drug development programs in the pipeline are Amgen, Roche and Pfizer. Here’s a look at where each of them stands in their attempts to find success in Novo and Lilly’s wake, and how they could snag a piece of a market estimated to generate many billions in sales by the next decade.
Amgen’s mid-stage rumblings
Leaders at California’s Amgen are eagerly awaiting results from an ongoing phase 2 trial of the GIPR and GLP-1 receptor agonist MariTide in patients who are overweight or obese expected to read out late next year. This month, the company announced preclinical and early-stage clinical results that showed significant weight loss and safety, and the company is already planning a “comprehensive” phase 3 trial, executives said on the fourth-quarter and full-year 2023 earnings call this week.
Although Amgen lags a good distance behind Novo and Lilly, analysts are looking to MariTide as a potential disruptor in the obesity space if clinical results can prove successful.
“With Eli Lilly and Novo so far ahead, the burden will be with Amgen to differentiate,” said Mizuho analyst and managing director Salim Syed in an emailed note to clients. Syed also pointed out that the exploration of dosing at less than once a month could do the trick for convenience and tolerability, as GLP-1s can come with gastrointestinal side effects.
Cantor Fitzgerald analyst Louise Chen also identified in a note about Lilly that Amgen could be a potential competitor with both MariTide and another oral small molecule called AMG786 in early stages for weight loss expected to read out in the first half of next year.
Roche buys its way in
Swiss pharma giant Roche entered the weight loss arena not through in-house development but through the $2.7 billion acquisition of the private biotech Carmot. The purchase brought three clinical-stage obesity programs to the company, which include both an injectable GLP-1 called CT-388 and an oral GLP-1 called CT-996.
Analysts from GlobalData said the Carmot acquisition last December “positions Roche on par with other industry leaders in the realm of GLP-1 analogues, such as Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly.”
The move was a turnaround for Roche, which had not historically been involved in the weight loss fray.
“As a major player in the pharmaceutical industry, Roche has traditionally focused its [R&D] efforts on cancer research, diagnostics and gene therapies, as evidenced by the 120+ innovation areas tracked for Roche,” GlobalData practice head of innovation products Sourabh Nyalkalkar said. “However, innovations in lifestyle disorders, such as GLP-1 analogues, were not a key focus until this recent acquisition.”
Nyalkalkar noted the acquisition might signal a trend of major pharma companies trying to get into the GLP-1 space through M&A.
Pfizer backs away — but not entirely
While Pfizer was one of the leading developers of GLP-1 drugs behind Novo and Lilly with a mid-stage trial for danuglipron, the results of the study led the pharma giant to back away after high rates of nausea and discontinued use — despite a significant reduction in body weight —plagued the outcome.
Upon dropping the program in December 2023t, Pfizer chief scientific officer and president of R&D Dr. Mikael Dolsten said in a statement that improving the once-daily formulation could make a difference down the road, but no further details arose.
Pfizer added a new weight loss agent to early-stage trials, which became evident on the company’s fourth-quarter and full-year 2023 earnings call last week. But CEO Albert Bourla is keeping details about the drug candidate close to the vest, adding that midway through this year, the company could potentially disclose more.
“On the new weight loss molecules, unfortunately we are not going to disclose the mechanism of action,” Bourla said. “The reason is it’s too early.”