Novo Nordisk buys Inversago for $1bn as Wegovy sales soar

Posted: 10th August 2023 11:15

Sales of its obesity therapies may be accelerating, but Novo Nordisk is showing no signs of pushing the brake pedal on investments in the category.

Amongst its interim results statement, the Danish drugmaker revealed that it has agreed to buy Canada's Inversago Pharma, a specialist in metabolic disorders that focuses on the development of peripherally acting CB1 receptor (CB1r) blocker therapies, for up to $1.075 billion.

CB1 is a cannabinoid receptor thought to play a role in appetite regulation and other cardiometabolic pathways, and Novo Nordisk said Inversago's drugs have the potential "to help people living with obesity, diabetes, and complications associated with metabolic disorders."

Lead candidate INV-002 is an oral CB1 inverse agonist that has been shown to stimulate weight loss in a phase 1b trial, as well as possibly curb appetite, and has already advanced into phase 2 for diabetic kidney disease.

The investment in Inversago comes as Novo Nordisk reported obesity sales that grew 157% in the first half of the year to more than DKK 18 billion ($2.7 billion), despite production capacity constraints that have held up the rollout of Wegovy (semaglutide), a sought-after weekly injectable for weight loss.

Wegovy itself rocketed 367% to DKK 7.5 billion in the second quarter, up from DKK 4.5 billion in the first three months of the year; although, once-daily injectable Saxenda (liraglutide) saw a modest decline over the same period from DKK 3.3 billion to DKK 2.8 billion.

The increase in obesity sales came ahead of a couple of significant developments, one positive and one potentially negative. In July, the EMA started an investigation into the safety of the two drugs – both GLP-1 agonists – after reports of suicidal thoughts or self-injury in a small number of patients.

Then, just this week Novo Nordisk reported top-line results from the first cardiovascular outcomes trial for a GLP-1 drug, showing that Wegovy reduced major adverse cardiovascular events (MACE) by 20% in the SELECT study, as well as achieving weight loss in patients.

"We are very excited about the results from the SELECT trial," said the company's chief executive, Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen.

"Obesity is a serious chronic disease associated with many comorbidities and the results from SELECT demonstrate that comorbidities associated with the condition can be significantly reduced by treating people with semaglutide."

The obesity therapies helped to drive Novo Nordisk's overall revenues up 30% to DKK 108 billion, with operating profit up by nearly a third to DKK 49 billion, and it now expects full-year sales to rise between 27% and 33%.

Insulin sales fell 7% to DKK 24.6 billion in the first half, with the fall mainly driven by price cuts, while Novo Nordisk's rare disease franchise fell 18% to DKK 8.7 billion, dragged down by lower sales of endocrine disorder drugs.

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