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Viking data suggest obesity drug could rival Zepbound, Wegovy

Dive Brief:

  • An experimental weight loss drug developed by Viking Therapeutics helped overweight and obese people lose up to 15% of their body weight after 13 weeks of treatment in a mid-stage trial, the company said Tuesday.
  • The drug, a potential rival to Eli Lilly’s Zepbound and Novo Nordisk’s Wegovy, led to greater weight loss over that time period than both of those medicines did in clinical testing. However, Wall Street analysts cautioned the effects of Viking’s therapy need to be confirmed in a larger Phase 3 trial.
  • Viking shares nearly doubled Tuesday morning, adding more than $3 billion to the company’s market value as the data sparked speculation the biotech might become a buyout target.

Dive Insight:

Viking’s drug, an injectable therapy called VK2735, activates two insulin-stimulating hormones known as GLP-1 and GIP. The drug’s mechanism is similar to Lilly’s tirzepatide, which is approved for obesity and diabetes under different brand names. Tirzepatide is a big reason why the pharma giant has become one of the world’s most valuable companies, with a market capitalization above $700 billion.

Viking’s value is now climbing as well, as study results show its drug may be competitive with Lilly and Novo’s fast-selling medicines in a market some estimate will be worth as much as $90 billion annually by 2030.

Last year, Viking reported data from a Phase 1 trial of VK2735 that tested safety and evaluated which dose to use in further testing. At that point, participants who received the highest tested dose lost about 7.8% of their body weight over four weeks.

Data from the Phase 2 trial, called Venture, provide a broader look at the drug’s potential. The study enrolled 176 people classified as obese or overweight who had at least one weight-related health condition. They were randomized to receive either a placebo or one of four doses of VK2735 ranging from 2.5 to 15 milligrams a week.

From the study’s start, participants who received the lowest dose lost an average of 9.1% of their body weight, or about 7.4% more than those who received a placebo. The weight-loss effects were greater with each higher dose tested, and the results were statistically significant, the company said.

At all dose levels, study investigators saw a meaningful difference in the number of people losing at least 10% of their body weight when compared to a placebo. About 88% of those given the highest dose reached that threshold, for instance.

Side effects were more frequent at higher dose levels, too. One-fifth of the 35 participants on the highest drug dose quit the study early, Viking reported. Nausea affected 63% of the people taking that dose, and vomiting 29%, although both are common side effects of drugs like VK2735.

Nonetheless, the data exceeded the expectations of investors, who had forecast about 8% reductions in body weight, wrote Leerink Partners analyst Thomas Smith in a note to clients. William Blair analyst Andy Hsieh added the result “reflects a best-in-class profile among approved and investigational agents with Phase 2 data.”

“We are shifting our stance to believe VK2735 has the potential to exhibit a potentially better efficacy profile relative to Zepbound,” Hsieh wrote.