Novo Nordisk buys another obesity biotech
Novo Nordisk has agreed its second acquisition in the space of a month of a biotech in the obesity category, snapping up fellow Danish company Embark Biotech for €15 million (around $16 million) upfront.
Shareholders in Embark could also be eligible for milestone payments of up to €456 million under the terms of the deal, assuming the biotech's lead programme delivers as expected.
There is little detail about Embark's focus, but it has described itself as a biotech company devoted to identifying cell surface receptors that regulate fat tissue calorie-burning and glucose and lipid uptake. The six-year-old company spun out of the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research (CBMR) at the University of Copenhagen in 2017.
Its focus has previously been on two lead programmes, a peptide drug called EMB1 for cardiometabolic disease, and EMB2, a small-molecule drug designed to boost calorie expenditure in the body as a way to combat obesity.
As part of the deal, Novo Nordisk has entered into a three-year collaboration with Embark Laboratories, which has been spun out of Embark Biotech and is led by the same University of Copenhagen team that formed its parent – Zach Gerhart-Hines, Jakob Bondo Hansen, and Thue Schwartz.
The new alliance will also be focused on the development of new therapies for obesity and weight-related illnesses, and Novo Nordisk gets an option to acquire drugs for obesity or type 2 diabetes as part of that side of the deal.
According to an article on the deal, published on the University of Copenhagen website, Novo Nordisk is interested in the team's work on a "previously overlooked" receptor with similar appetite-suppressing properties to GLP-1 agonists, now an established therapy for obesity.
Stimulating the receptor also increased calorie burn, as well as improving insulin sensitivity, potentially pointing to potential for use in tandem with other weight-loss therapies, including Novo Nordisk's GLP-1 drug Wegovy (semaglutide).
Brian Finan, head of obesity research at Novo Nordisk, said the company is "excited about the opportunity to advance Embark Biotech's lead programme" and looks forward to "co-creating novel treatments for cardiometabolic diseases with Embark Laboratories."
The move for Embark Biotech comes shortly after Novo Nordisk agreed to acquire Inversago and its peripherally acting CB1 receptor (CB1r) blocker therapies for up to $1.075 billion.
The lead candidate in the programme, INV-002, is an oral CB1 inverse agonist that has been shown to stimulate weight loss in a phase 1b trial, as well as possibly curb appetite, and has already advanced into phase 2 for diabetic kidney disease.