Flagship, ProFound set off on obesity drug hunt for Pfizer

Flagship, ProFound set off on obesity drug hunt for Pfizer

Pfizer has had some setbacks in its efforts to develop drugs for the lucrative obesity market, but could see its pipeline swell thanks to its $7 billion partnership with venture capital firm Flagship Pioneering.

Flagship has just announced that it will work with biotech start-up ProFound Therapeutics to find first-in-class protein therapeutics with potential in obesity, confirming this is the first programme in the alliance with Pfizer signed last July.

The announcement comes just a few months after Pfizer was forced to abandon two of its obesity candidates. Most recently, it shelved a twice-daily formulation of oral GLP-1 receptor agonist danuglipron after seeing a high dropout rate in a mid-stage clinical trial due to side effects, having previously stopped work on another drug in the class – lotiglipron – due to liver toxicity.

It has now turned its attention to a once-daily version of danuglipron and has another candidate with an undisclosed mechanism of action in phase 1 testing. However, it is trailing rivals in the GLP-1 agonist category and the deal with Flagship/ProFound could help it build for the longer term.

ProFound and Pioneering Medicines, Flagship’s in-house drug development unit, will carry out “foundational research” into new obesity therapies based on the start-up’s ProFoundry proteomics platform.

After initial validation has been completed, Pfizer has the option to take candidates forward under the terms of the strategic partnership, in which Pfizer and Flagship have agreed to put $50 million apiece into the development of up to 10 drug candidates. There is another $700 million on the table in milestones for each of the opt-in programmes.

“This agreement […] is designed to push the boundaries of science to potentially unlock new protein therapeutics for obesity,” said Charlotte Allerton, head of discovery and early development at Pfizer.

“With obesity expected to impact 1.9 billion people globally by 2035, it is critical to continue breakthrough discovery research that may lead to new, first-in-class therapies that help address current gaps in care,” she added.

The obesity market has been transformed in the last couple of years by injectable drugs working on GLP-1, such as Novo Nordisk’s Wegovy (semaglutide) and Eli Lilly’s just-approved Zepbound (tirzepatide), which also hits GIP, and the two market leaders have oral candidates approaching or already in phase 3 testing.

Novo Nordisk also has an oral version of semaglutide in the pipeline and an oral GLP-1/amylin therapy, dubbed amycretin, in phase 1. Lilly, meanwhile, is working on GLP-1 drug orforglipron, as well as retatrutide, which targets GLP-1, GIP, and glucagon.

Dozens of other candidates are in the clinical pipeline, as developers chase a market that analysts at Goldman Sachs have suggested could be worth $100 billion by 2030.