Lilly Drops Nearly $1.93B for Versanis to Bolster Weight-Loss Portfolio

Pictured: Eli Lilly's headquarters in Indianapolis

Pictured: Eli Lilly’s headquarters in Indianapolis

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Eli Lilly said Friday it plans to pay up to $1.925 billion to acquire Versanis and its lead asset, bimagrumab, a monoclonal antibody that aims to reduce fat mass without affecting muscle mass.

Pictured: Eli Lilly sign on building/iStock, jetcityimage

In a move to expand its presence in the increasingly competitive obesity market, Eli Lilly announced Friday it plans to pay up to $1.925 billion to acquire biopharma company Versanis and its lead asset, bimagrumab.

Bimagrumab is a monoclonal antibody that aims to reduce fat mass without affecting muscle mass. It works by keeping proteins from binding to receptors that inhibit muscle growth and encourage fat mass to build.

The monoclonal antibody was originally developed by Novartis as a treatment for muscle disorders, but its effects were not significant enough to continue development. However, researchers noted that it could reduce weight in overweight and obese adults with Type 2 diabetes. In 2021, it was licensed to the newly-launched startup Versanis.

Novartis initially studied the drug in muscle disorders, but repeated trials failed to show it led to a significant enough improvement in a patient’s physical function. Researchers did notice, however, that patients on the drug actually lost body fat. It is currently being assessed in the BELIEVE Phase IIb study alone and in combination with Novo Nordisk’s Wegovy (semaglutide) in overweight or obese adults.

Wegovy is designed to mimic the action of the GLP-1 hormone, which regulates blood sugar and decreases appetite, while bimagrumab works by acting directly on fat cells without reducing appetite or causing lean mass loss.

The Versanis acquisition will bolster Lilly’s existing weight-loss drug pipeline, which includes Mounjaro (tirzepatide), which has a similar method of action as Wegovy. Phase III data released in April showed Mounjaro met its co-primary and all secondary weight-loss endpoints in overweight or obese adults with Type 2 diabetes. With these data, Mounjaro and Wegovy are expected to be direct competitors in the weight loss market.

Lilly’s pipeline also includes retatrutide, an investigational peptide that can bind and activate the GLP-1, GIP and glucagon receptors. On June 27, Lilly announced new Phase II data that showed retatrutide induced up to 24% weight loss after 48 weeks in overweight and obese adults who do not have diabetes.

Lilly’s buyout of Versanis comes at a time when the demand for weight-loss treatments is on the rise. According to Lilly’s press release, obesity currently affects over 100 million Americans. Some analysts predict the market size for obesity and weight-loss drugs could reach up to $100 billion within the next decade, according to Reuters.

Rosemary Scott is an editor at BioSpace, focusing on the job market and career development for professionals in the life sciences. You can reach her at rosemary.scott@biospace.com and on LinkedIn.

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