Lab-Grown Muscle

From Lukewarm to Two Billion Dollars for Bimagrumab

Four years ago, bimagrumab was a castoff from Novartis. That company had originally developed this monoclonal antibody for treating a rare muscle disease. But it failed spectacularly with disappointing results from a phase 2b study in 2016. That was a big disappointment, so it’s little wonder that Novartis walked away. Three years later, a glimmer of hope appeared when scientists presented impressive results with the drug in obesity. Still, though, this promising drug was an orphan. It took more than a year to get the full results from that study published. Now, the world has gone from lukewarm to nearly two billion dollars for bimagrumab.

Lilly yesterday announced they will pay up to $1.9 billion for the rights to bimagrumab. They’re doing this by acquiring Versanis, the private venture pharma company formed specifically to develop this drug.

From Trash to Treasure

This is a twisted story for many reasons. Four years ago, even with impressive early results in obesity, Novartis wanted no part of this drug. It took years for Versanis to get the rights to it and get the funding for a phase 2b study. That study started late last year.

Another twist in this story lies with Lilly. Back in 2018, the company was lukewarm about developing its own drug, tirzepatide, for obesity. Now, because of the obesity indication, tirzepatide is set to be one of the biggest blockbusters of all time.

So the trash of bimagrumab from Novartis is suddenly a treasure to Lilly. This is a story rich with irony.

Check Your Exuberance

Bimagrumab does offer a fascinating promise – helping people lose fat mass while gaining muscle mass. The phase 2b study underway now will tell us in 2025 how well it works by itself and in combination with semaglutide.

But do stay grounded. These studies are called experiments for a reason. Disappointments can happen and a drug with a new mechanism of action – such as bimagrumab – is especially risky.

Clinical scientists are learning a lot about obesity. Any time there is much learning, there will be surprises.

Click here, here, and here for more on this news from Lilly and Versanis.

Lab-Grown Muscle, photograph by Nenad Bursac for the NIH Image Gallery on flickr, licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

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July 15, 2023