- Eli Lilly has agreed to acquire privately held biotechnology company Versanis in a deal that will add an experimental antibody to Lilly’s pipeline of medicines for obesity.
- The companies did not disclose a purchase price, but said in a statement Friday that upfront and milestone payments by Lilly to Versanis shareholders could be worth as much as $1.9 billion.
- Founded in 2021 by Aditum Bio, Versanis is built around a drug licensed from Novartis. The antibody, called bimagrumab, is designed to block cellular communication via two types of protein regulators and is being studied in people who are overweight or obese.
The dealmaking gives Lilly new drug candidates in areas of research it has prioritized, like immune diseases, cancer and obesity. Its recent success developing drugs for the latter condition has fueled a stock price surge that’s made it the most valuable pharmaceutical company in the world.
Lilly’s most advanced drug in testing for weight loss, an injection called Mounjaro, targets a hormone called GLP-1, similar to Novo Nordisk’s wildly popular diabetes and obesity drugs Ozempic and Wegovy. Another promising medicine that’s not as far along also targets GLP-1, as well as two other hormones.
Versanis’ experimental obesity treatment works differently. It binds to proteins known as activin type II A and B receptors, which is thought to thereby block signaling via activin and myostatin. This kind of approach, the companies claim, could help reduce fat while preserving muscle mass.
Lilly envisions combining Versanis’ drug with its own GLP-1 medicines, which are known as incretins. “By unifying the knowledge and expertise in incretin biology at Lilly with the deep understanding of activin biology at Versanis, we aim to harness the potential benefits of such combinations for patients,” Ruth Gimeno, vice president of diabetes, obesity and cardiometabolic research, said in a statement from the company.
For Versanis’ investors Medixci and Atlas Venture, the deal is a quick return on investment. The two venture capital firms, together with Aditum Bio, raised $70 million in Series A financing for the biotech just under two years ago.
That money went toward launching a Phase 2 clinical trial of bimagrumab in about 500 adults who are overweight and obese. The study, which tested Versanis’ drug together with semaglutide, the active ingredient in Ozempic and Wegovy, is set to complete in September.
“This single-asset exit further strengthens our belief in delivering value via investing in focused, asset-driven companies,” said Nick Williams, a partner at Medicxi and a director on Versanis’ board, in a statement.