AstraZeneca has committed to $80m in non-dilutive funding to Swiss biotech SixPeak Bio, which is developing a bispecific antibody therapy for weight loss.

The funding will be disbursed over the next two years. As part of the funding agreement, AstraZeneca will retain exclusive rights to acquire SixPeaks during this period. Though the companies did not disclose the “agreed upon” price for the acquisition, they did state that AstraZeneca can execute the buyout at the time of the investigational new drug (IND) application submission for the lead candidate.

Concurrent with the AstraZeneca deal, SixPeaks also raised $30m in a Series A round. The funds will be used to develop a pipeline of weight loss therapies. The lead candidate is a bispecific antibody that targets activin type IIA and IIB receptors, which are responsible for regulating muscle mass. The therapy is expected to overcome the common side effect of muscle loss that occurs with glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) agonists that dominate the obesity treatment space.

In preclinical models, SixPeak’s lead therapy has shown muscle mass preservation in lean and obese mice, both as a monotherapy and in combination with GLP-1 agonists. The company has also reported that the lead molecules have shown “improved potency, biophysical properties, and pharmacokinetics / pharmacodynamics, as well as reduced off-target binding compared with competing antibodies” in preclinical studies.

GLP-1 obesity therapies have generated millions in sales. Novo Nordisk is the current leader in the space and its obesity drugs, Wegovy and Saxenda (liraglutide), generated DKr41.6bn ($6bn) in combined global sales in 2023, as per the company’s Q4 financials. GlobalData estimates that GLP-1 receptor agonist sales for the type 2 diabetes (T2D) and obesity markets will reach more than $125bn in 2033.

GlobalData is the parent company of Pharmaceutical Technology.

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This isn’t AstraZeneca’s first foray into the obesity space. In November 2023, the company signed a licensing agreement worth up to $2bn with Eccogene. The agreement was to develop and commercialise a GLP-1 agonist, ECC504, which is being evaluated in Phase I clinical trials as a treatment for obesity, T2D and other comorbidities.

Other pharma giants are also making waves in this space. Last week, Roche reported positive results from the Phase Ib trial of its GLP-1/GIP receptor agonist for obesity and T2D. Another early contender is Viking Therapeutics’ GLP-1/GIP receptor agonist, which was studied in a Phase II trial that met its primary and secondary endpoints.