Wogert, a 48-year-old customer service representative in Buffalo, New York, stated that she gained back 27 pounds (12.2 kilograms) after stopping medication. This experience is not uncommon among patients using weight-loss drugs like Wegovy from Novo Nordisk. According to prescription information obtained from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), 44% of patients experienced nausea symptoms and 30% experienced vomiting after taking the medication.
Many biotech companies are hoping to provide alternative solutions for those plagued by side effects. According to a report from Stifel Investment Bank, over a dozen small private companies are currently developing weight-loss drugs similar to Wegovy but without causing nausea. The report analyzed the obesity market and was published in March and July this year.
The mechanisms of action for these experimental drugs may be similar to those of drugs like Wegovy, or they may be completely different. Interviews with executives from three companies indicate that these experimental drugs seem to avoid side effects such as nausea.
Some companies have been working on these drugs for years. Four executives told Reuters that the success of Wegovy has drawn attention to the obesity market, which may change their own prospects for drug development.
They stated that this growing interest puts them in a better position to raise funds from potential investors. It is projected that the obesity drug market will reach a value of $100 billion by the end of this decade.
Different companies are taking different approaches. Some major pharmaceutical companies, including Novo Nordisk, Eli Lilly, and Pfizer, state that they are developing second-generation weight-loss drugs based on Wegovy and Mounjaro, offering pills instead of injections, or potentially leading to greater weight loss.
However, these drugs still fall under the GLP-1 class and may still cause nausea, as shown in the midterm and late-stage trial data released by these companies in May.
Some investors see opportunities in biotech companies. Andrew Levin, Managing Director of investment firm RA Capital Management, stated that there are multiple options available, and individuals and their doctors will find the best approach for themselves. The company led a $132 million Series B financing round for Rivus Pharmaceuticals last year.
Rivus states that their main drug, HU6, shows significant weight loss effects compared to GLP-1 drugs and avoids side effects such as muscle loss and nausea. The results of two Phase II trials for HU6 will be announced next year.
Glyscend Therapeutics, a biotech company based in Baltimore, Maryland, is taking a different approach. They released preliminary data from a Phase IIa trial in May, showing promising weight loss effects and "good tolerability" with minimal nausea and temporary gastrointestinal side effects.
Antag Therapeutics, a European biotech company based in Denmark, has stated that the rapid expansion of the obesity market has improved their fundraising prospects. The company plans to complete a €30 million Series A financing and initiate Phase I clinical trials by the end of 2023.
Swiss company Aphaia Pharma initiated a Phase II clinical trial in May for their daily glucose formula. The drug suppresses appetite by restoring the natural release of GLP-1-like hormones without causing nausea.
Timothy Opple, an investment banker at Stifel, predicts that over 100 biotech companies may be working in the field of weight loss within the next 5 to 10 years. He mentioned that, currently, Stifel does not have investments in any of the biotech companies mentioned in the report.