AstraZeneca makes big push into obesity treatment with new pill partnership
AstraZeneca, the United Kingdom’s pharmaceutical giant, has entered a strategic partnership with Eccogene, a Shanghai-based biotech firm, to co-develop a groundbreaking pill designed to combat obesity and type 2 diabetes.
This alliance marks AstraZeneca’s significant foray into the burgeoning sector of weight management medications, underpinned by an exclusive licensing contract focusing on an investigational drug, ECC5004. The said compound is touted to address not only obesity but also a spectrum of cardiometabolic disorders, including heart disease and stroke, ailments afflicting over a billion people worldwide.
Eccogene is poised to receive payments that could sum up to a substantial $2 billion, which is approximately £1.6 billion, as per the agreed terms.
ECC5004 is currently undergoing phase 1 trials, with AstraZeneca setting its sights on advancing to phase 2 clinical evaluations by the subsequent year’s end. Additionally, the pharma titan is nurturing two other nascent-stage injectable obesity therapies.
The innovative ECC5004, if it passes clinical muster, is envisioned to be administered orally once daily, a standalone treatment or potentially in conjunction with other drugs targeting various cardiometabolic diseases. This positions it distinctively against the prevailing injectables that are typically administered weekly.
Operating as a GLP-1 agonist, ECC5004 is designed to replicate the function of the GLP-1 hormone, which is naturally secreted post-food intake.
Pascal Soriot, AstraZeneca’s CEO, highlighted the critical demand for effective obesity interventions across Western nations, Latin America, and South Asia, where abdominal obesity is rampant, precipitating heightened risks of hypertension and diabetes.
Soriot indicated that while the journey to market might span several years, ECC5004 could potentially be more economically accessible than existing options. Due to its simplified chemical structure that permits cheaper production costs, the drug could cater to a wider demographic, including those in lower-income nations where AstraZeneca maintains a robust footprint.
As the competition intensifies in the international market for obesity drugs, demand has surged for Novo Nordisk’s Wegovy and Ozempic, prompting supply challenges. With Wegovy’s pricing set at £73.25 per pack monthly on the NHS and reaching £199 at retail pharmacies, its sales and profits have climbed sharply, elevating Novo Nordisk to be Europe’s highest-valued company by market capitalisation.
Notably, Eli Lilly’s Mounjaro has demonstrated superior weight loss outcomes compared to Wegovy and recently secured approvals for weight management in the UK and US. Market analysts from UBS have predicted that Mounjaro could emerge as one of the most successful pharmaceuticals ever, with projected peak sales around £20 billion.
Pharmaceutical titans Novo Nordisk, Eli Lilly, and Pfizer are all in the race to create oral anti-obesity medications, which promise cost-effectiveness and ease of administration over injections.
Bolstered by its oncology drugs and the diabetes treatment Forxiga, AstraZeneca has reported a 5% revenue increase, totaling $33.8 billion in the year’s first three quarters. The firm also lifted its revenue and profit forecasts for the full year, announcing approvals for additional cancer treatments.
AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine, crafted in collaboration with Oxford University, was pivotal during the pandemic, credited with saving over 6 million lives globally within its inaugural year as per independent assessments.
However, AstraZeneca currently faces two high court cases in London related to the vaccine’s side effects. The company is expected to contest these allegations.
The World Health Organization last year affirmed the vaccine’s safety and efficacy for individuals 18 years and older, labelling TTS occurrences as exceptionally rare and characteristically presenting severe blood clots.