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Pfizer pins hopes on daily pill to crack market for weight-loss drugs

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Pfizer is planning to test a daily weight-loss pill in mid-stage trials later this year, as the struggling pharmaceutical group pins its hope on the experimental drug as its route into a market projected to be worth more than $130bn a year.

The New York-based drugmaker said on Thursday that it would begin studies to evaluate the optimal dose of the weight-loss pill in the second half of this year. The pill is based on the compound danuglipron — a glucagon-like peptide, or GLP-1, similar to those used in popular weight-loss drugs produced by Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly.

The announcement comes as Pfizer struggles to convince investors that it can find a path to growth after the Covid-19 pandemic, as sales of its blockbuster vaccine and other Covid products have plummeted.

At the end of last year, the drugmaker discontinued tests on a twice-daily version of danuglipron after the medicine succeeded in reducing weight in obese patients but caused nausea, vomiting and gastrointestinal side effects.

Mikael Dolsten, Pfizer’s outgoing chief scientific officer, said on Thursday that danuglipron “has demonstrated good efficacy in a twice-daily formulation, and we believe a once-daily formulation has the potential to have a competitive profile in the oral GLP-1 space”.

Pfizer’s weight-loss pill, even if successful, will still be playing catch-up with rival drugs. Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly, which are already generating billions in sales from their respective blockbuster weight-loss injections Wegovy and Zepbound, are testing weight-loss pills in phase-three trials.

Meanwhile, biotechs Zealand Pharma, Structure Therapeutics and Viking Therapeutics are also testing weight-loss pills in mid-stage trials, as other pharmaceutical companies such as AstraZeneca and Amgen rush to find an entrant into the lucrative market.

Goldman Sachs’ analysts earlier this year upgraded their forecast of the size of the global weight-loss drug market at its annual peak to $130bn from $100bn, estimating that 19mn US adults will be prescribed the medicines for weight loss.

Pfizer’s first-quarter revenues fell 20 per cent year on year to $14.8bn, driven by a sharp decline in sales of its Covid shot and Covid treatment pill Paxlovid.

At an investor conference hosted by Goldman Sachs last month, Albert Bourla, Pfizer’s chief executive, said his appetite for being in the weight-loss drug market was “very high”. But he said GLP-1s were “just scratching the surface of what we will see in obesity”.

Weight-loss injections were facing the “most imminent competition”, he said, and Pfizer had a chance of launching an oral formulation two years after Eli Lilly.

Pfizer is also examining several other weight-loss drugs in pre-clinical studies, including formulations not based on GLP-1s. The early-stage trial of danuglipron was tested on 20 obese patients, according to the US government clinical trials database.

Shares in Pfizer, which have more than halved from their pandemic-era peak, were up 1.3 per cent shortly after Wall Street’s opening bell on Thursday.


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