Novo Nordisk’s Flagship alliance bears obesity, MASH fruit

Novo Nordisk’s Flagship alliance bears obesity, MASH fruit

Novo Nordisk has reaped the first harvest from its wide-ranging alliance with life sciences investor Flagship Pioneering, buying rights to two programmes from the VC’s portfolio companies Omega Therapeutics and Cellarity.

The two deals are firmly within Novo Nordisk’s cardiometabolic focus – driven by semaglutide drugs Ozempic for diabetes and Wegovy for obesity – and include an Omega mRNA drug for obesity and a small-molecule therapy for metabolic dysfunction-associated steatohepatitis (MASH) from Cellarity.

Novo Nordisk traditionally generated its pipeline mainly from internal R&D, but is increasingly looking externally for candidates and the 2022 alliance with Flagship was another part of that transition, aiming to deliver three to five “transformational” medicines for cardiometabolic and rare diseases.

Under the terms of the deal, Novo Nordisk will reimburse R&D costs and the two companies stand to receive up to $532 million in upfront and milestone payments, as well as tiered royalties if they reach the market, which will be shared with Flagship’s Pioneering Medicines unit.

The Danish pharma group’s chief scientific officer, Marcus Schindler, described the first two deals as an “important moment” in the alliance, adding that it is “essential that we complement our internal research with external innovation and work with partners who are bringing forward cutting-edge technology.”

The Omega deal focuses on the development of an epigenomic controller as part of a new approach to obesity management that will enhance thermogenesis – the process of heat production in warm-blooded animals – and dial up metabolic activity.

The Cellarity project, meanwhile, is directed at the application of artificial intelligence and transcriptomic data from humans to the hunt for new medicines for MASH, a form of non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) which has no approved treatments.

Flagship has been making waves in the biotech sector in the last few years with its strategy of creating companies based on biopharma technology platforms, often putting its faith in high-risk ventures, and was behind the formation of mRNA pioneer Moderna.

Novo Nordisk has been transformed by the runaway success of Ozempic and Wegovy, which have seen sales rocket despite supply constraints, generating revenues that have allowed the drugmaker to invest in its earlier-stage cardiometabolic disease pipeline.

Just last year, for example, it acquired two other companies working on obesity projects – Embark Biotech and Inversago – and partnered with Aspect Biosystems on cell-based therapies for diabetes and weight loss.