The available metabolic disorder drugs targeting the GLP-1 receptor are all injectable products. The biopharmaceutical industry race is on to bring patients a more convenient pill alternative, and AstraZeneca is jumping back into it.
AstraZeneca is paying $185 million up front to license rights to a small molecule from Eccogene that’s currently in early-stage clinical development. The deal announced Thursday follows the pharmaceutical giant’s exit from the race earlier this year due to disappointing early clinical data for two small molecules in its pipeline. But in the Eccogene drug, ECC5004, AstraZeneca has what CEO Pascal Soriot describes as a potentially best-in-class oral drug.
“This molecule could offer an important advance, as both a monotherapy and in combinations, for the estimated one billion people living with cardiometabolic diseases such as type-2 diabetes and obesity,” Soriot said in the company’s Thursday announcement of third quarter 2023 financial results.
The Eccogene drug is currently in Phase 1 testing in healthy volunteers and patients with type 2 diabetes. According to AstraZeneca, preliminary data from the clinical trial show encouraging glucose and body weight reduction across dose levels. The company did not provide specific figures for those reductions.
AstraZeneca is trying to keep pace with other GLP-1-targeting small molecules in clinical development. Eli Lilly, which has the injectable GLP-1 agonists Mounjaro for diabetes and the newly approved Zepbound for weight loss, is also developing an oral GLP-1 drug called orforglipron. In Phase 2 results published in September in the New England Journal of Medicine, this once-daily pill led to clinically significant weight loss measured at 26 weeks in adults who are obese or overweight.
Pfizer is in the chase with danuglipron, a small molecule that has reached mid-stage clinical development in obesity and type 2 diabetes. This drug is administered as four tablets take twice daily. Pfizer is also developing a once-daily version. Structure Therapeutics is in early clinical development with its once-daily oral GLP-1 agonist, GSBR-1290. In September, the biotech reported preliminary Phase 1b data showing average weight loss of 4.9 kilograms (about 10.8 pounds) in 24 patients who are overweight or obese. Structure executives said these results measured after four weeks of treatment are comparable to the weight loss results posted by other GLP-1 agonists assessed in the same time frame. Structure expects data for a type 2 diabetes cohort will become available by the end of this year.
In an investor presentation, AstraZeneca said a Phase 2 test for its newly acquired molecule is planned for 2024. Looking longer term, the company sees the drug as a potential monotherapy and as part of combinations for various cardiometabolic diseases. AstraZeneca’s top cardiovascular, renal, and metabolism (CVRM) product is the blockbuster drug Farxiga, which has approvals in type 2 diabetes, heart failure, and chronic kidney disease.
AstraZeneca is gaining exclusive global rights to Eccogene’s drug candidate in any indication, except for China, where the Shanghai-based biotech retains right to co-develop and co-commercialize the molecule alongside AstraZeneca. Eccogene could receive up to $1.825 billion in milestone payments, plus royalties from sales if ECC5004 reaches the market.
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