Cardiology Pharmaceuticals

Lilly Diversifies Weight Loss Pipeline with Versanis Acquisition

Eli Lilly bolstered its already strong position in the white hot obesity drug segment, acquiring cardiometabolic disease biopharma startup Versanis for up to $1.92 billion.

Versanis was founded in 2021 with the specific goal of developing bimagrumab, a monoclonal antibody to activin type II receptors that directly targets fat mass by blocking activin and myostatin signaling. 

  • Versanis has only raised a $70M Series A, so this “up to” $1.92B acquisition highlights the value that pharma companies are placing on weight loss leadership.

Bimagrumab is already being assessed with overweight adults in a Phase 2b trial, both as a monotherapy and when used in combination with semaglutide (Novo Nordisk’s GLP-1 Ozempic/Wegovy).

  • Lilly seems particularly interested in combining bimagrumab with “incretins” (a drug class that includes Lilly’s tirzepatide… or Nordisk’s semaglutide), suggesting that this combo could further reduce fat while preserving muscle mass, leading to better overall patient outcomes.

The acquisition is also another signal that Lilly is taking a diversified approach to the high-stakes weight loss treatment segment.

  • Lilly’s current GLP-1/GIP drug tirzepatide (aka Mounjaro) excelled in a recent weight loss trial, paving the way for its FDA submission for obesity (it’s already approved for T2D)
  • Lilly’s investigative GCG/GLP-1/GIP drug retatrutide achieved the greatest weight loss results we’ve seen so far (24.2% at 48 weeks), plus a range of cardiometabolic improvements in a recent Phase 2 trial 
  • Lilly’s pill-based investigative GLP-1 orforglipron showed similar promise last month, reducing body fat by 9.4% to 14.7% over 36 weeks

This acquisition adds a completely new weight loss mechanism to Lilly’s portfolio, although Lilly seems more focused on “the potential of bimagrumab in combination with its incretin therapies.”

The Takeaway

Lilly’s investments in weight loss (both M&A and R&D) seem justified by the massive demand we’re seeing for current GLP-1s, and the recent estimates that this segment might be worth $100B by 2030. And although bimagrumab is unproven, this high-premium acquisition would be more than justified if bimagrumab’s activin blocking capabilities combined with incretins’ glucose-lowering properties prove to be a magic combination for weight loss.

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