Novo Nordisk Expands Weight Loss Pipeline with Inversago Acquisition

Novo Nordisk added to its leadership position in the white hot weight loss segment, acquiring Canadian biotech Inversago Pharma for up to $1.075 billion depending on certain development and commercial milestones.

Inversago Pharma develops therapies that block cannabinoid receptor type 1 proteins (CB1) to treat obesity, diabetes, and other metabolic disorders, although Novo Nordisk appears most interested in Inversago’s lead asset: INV-202.

  • INV-202 is an oral CB1 inverse agonist (a once-daily pill) that has shown promise for weight loss and appetite suppression in a Phase 1b trial, allowing users to shed an average of 7.7 pounds in 28 days (vs. 1 lb avg. gains in the placebo group)
  • INV-202 has also advanced to a Phase 2 trial for diabetic kidney disease, while Inversago’s other assets target metabolic and fibrotic disorders

Novo Nordisk was sure to position Inversago’s portfolio as “next-generation CB1 receptor blocker therapies,” highlighting their unique approach of targeting CB1 receptors in peripheral tissues (e.g. GI tract, kidneys, liver, pancreas, muscles, lungs).

  • That differentiation is notable given that Sanofi had to withdraw its Acomplia (rimonabant) CB1 weight loss drug in 2008 due to concerns about the psychiatric side-effects from inadvertently targeting brain tissue
  • It’s also quite different from Novo Nordisk’s injectable semaglutide (Ozempic and Wegovy), which mimics the GLP-1 hormone released in the gut in response to eating, prompting the body to produce more insulin and reducing blood sugar

The acquisition also suggests that an early-stage obesity drug startup land grab might be underway, led by the two pharma giants who are already leading the weight loss segment.

  • Inversago’s “up to” $1.075B acquisition price represents a nearly 10x premium over the $111M that it raised through its Series C round
  • Lilly acquired cardiometabolic disease biopharma startup Versanis for up to $1.92B just a few weeks ago for well above Versanis’s $70M Series A funding

The Takeaway

Semaglutide and tirzepatide made Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly early leaders in the emerging weight loss segment, and their recent acquisitions reveal that the companies are now filling out their weight loss pipelines to ensure continued leadership.

These acquisitions have come with hefty potential premiums, but considering that GLP-1s generated $4.5B in global revenue last quarter (with minimal payor coverage) and given that the weight loss segment could be worth $100B by 2030, Novo Nordisk and Lilly clearly view these bets as justified.

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