Eli Lilly is buying weight problems drug maker Versanis for $1.9 billion

Eli Lilly and Company, headquarters of a pharmaceutical company in Alcobendas, Madrid, Spain.

Cristina Arias | cover | Getty Images

Eli Lilly announced on Friday that it will acquire Versanis, a privately held obesity drug maker, for up to $1.93 billion to expand the pharmaceutical giant’s portfolio of weight-loss treatments.

Eli Lilly agreed to pay Versanis shareholders in cash, which will consist of an upfront payment and possible follow-up payments if Versanis meets certain “development and sales milestones.”

Oakland, California-based Versanis, founded in 2021 by biotech investment firm Aditum Bio, has an investigational drug for obesity and potentially other conditions.

The deal is Eli Lilly’s latest attempt to cash in on the weight-loss gold rush that began last year Novo Nordisk’Blockbuster injections Wegovy and Ozempic continued to gain popularity.

An estimated 40% of US adults are obese. Analysts estimate that the global weight loss drug market could be worth $100 billion by around 2030.

Versanis’ drug, bimagreumab, binds directly to specific cells in the body to reduce fat mass.

The company is studying bimagreumab in a phase 2 study in overweight or obese adults and in another study comparing the treatment with Novo Nordisk’s Wegovy and Ozempic.

Bimagreumab works differently than Novo Nordisk’s drugs and similar treatments from Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly. Known as GLP-1 agonists, these drugs mimic hormones called incretins produced in the gut to suppress a person’s appetite.

However, Versanis said combining bimagreumab with these incretin-based therapies could potentially lead to better outcomes for people with obesity and cardiometabolic diseases, which include diabetes, kidney disease and heart disease.

Eli Lilly is working on several treatments for obesity.

The company’s experimental once-a-week injection, Retatrutid, helped overweight or obese patients lose up to 24% of their weight after 48 weeks.

This surpasses the weight reduction caused by other anti-obesity drugs.

Eli Lilly’s experimental obesity pill Orforglipron also helped overweight or obese patients lose up to 14.7% of their body weight after 36 weeks.

The company is also pushing for approval of its type 2 diabetes drug Mounjaro for obesity.

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