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Roche keeps pace in obesity drug field with early study data

Dive Brief:

  • An experimental Roche drug helped people with obesity lose an average of nearly 19% of their body weight over six months, after adjusting for placebo, in an early-stage trial, the company said Thursday.
  • Roche is awaiting additional data from a study of the drug, called CT-388, in people with diabetes as well as obesity. It also didn’t provide specifics on the drug’s side effect profile. CT-388 is currently only in a Phase 1 program involving 96 people. Larger and longer trials are needed before the company can ask the Food and Drug Administration for approval.
  • Roche acquired CT-388 through a $2.7 billion acquisition of biotechnology startup Carmot Therapeutics in December. The deal was part of a rush by pharmaceutical companies to capture a share of a market estimated to be worth more than $100 billion annually by early next decade.

Dive Insight:

Though it can be difficult to compare drugs across trials, the weight loss figures Roche revealed surpassed what’s been observed in early testing of all other obesity therapies after around six months of treatment, Evercore ISI analyst Umer Raffat wrote in a note to clients Thursday. However, that data would need to be duplicated in bigger trials before it’s clear how well CT-388 stacks up against other drugs.

Roche will also need to show that CT-388 is at least as safe as its rivals. In a statement, the company only said that CT-388 “demonstrated a safety and tolerability profile consistent with its drug class,” which often includes gastrointestinal side effects.

Nonetheless, despite the tough competition, the data suggest that Roche has a chance to gain share of an already lucrative and still growing market.

Novo Nordisk’s Wegovy and Eli Lilly’s Zepbound are the leaders, with sales of $4.5 billion and $176 million respectively last year. Roche aims to position CT-388 as a possible rival to both of them, as the drug is also a weekly injection and, like Zepbound, stimulates two metabolic hormones called GLP-1 and GIP.

Yet it will take time for Roche to catch up. Already, Novo has shown Wegovy can reduce their risk of heart attacks, stroke and cardiovascular-related death in obese people with heart disease. That finding has cleared the way for Medicare to begin covering the drug for some people. Lilly could soon follow, too, with a similar trial due to report data later this year.

Roche has other threats to contend with, too. Many obesity drugs are in mid- or late-stage testing, among them medicines from Boehringer Ingelheim, Pfizer, Amgen, Structure Therapeutics and Viking Therapeutics. Novo and Lilly are also developing oral medicines and other follow-on drugs.