Novo Nordisk has made another move to expand its obesity portfolio, acquiring Embark Biotech for 15 million euros ($16 million) in its second weight loss deal in a row.
The Danish pharma giant is facing stiff competition from Eli Lilly in the obesity market, as both companies have developed successful GLP-1 drugs for diabetes and weight loss. Lilly recently paid $1.9 billion to take over Versanis Bio, and Novo Nordisk responded by buying Inversago Pharma and Embark in August.
Embark is a spin-off from the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research at the University of Copenhagen, where it was founded in 2017 with the support of Novo Seeds. The biotech has been working with Novo Nordisk since 2018 on a research collaboration.
The scientific foundation of Embark comes from the lab of Zachary Gerhart-Hines, Ph.D., who discovered a signaling pathway between the fat tissue, gut and brain that regulates fat burning.
“There is a clear strategic fit between the novel biology we have discovered and Novo Nordisk’s expertise and focus on developing new drugs in the cardiometabolic space. We are thrilled to pass on the baton for our lead metabolic program to Novo Nordisk. This deal and Embark’s success are direct outcomes of the unique and innovative ecosystem in Denmark that has been cultivated by the BioInnovation Institute and the University of Copenhagen and through initiatives from the Novo Nordisk Foundation and the Innovation Fund Denmark”.
– Zach Gerhart-Hines, Chief Technology Officer at Embark Laboratories
Novo Nordisk did not disclose the specific targets of Embark, and the biotech’s website has been replaced by a link to the press release about the deal. However, an old version of the website reveals that Embark was developing drugs that activate EMB1, a new type of receptor on fat cells that increases glucose uptake and energy expenditure.
According to its website in February, Embark had a long-lasting EMB1 peptide program in preclinical development and was preparing for human trials. The biotech received a grant to support preclinical safety studies last year.
“Novo Nordisk has been engaged in obesity research for 25 years, and we continuously search for new ways to address this serious chronic disease. We are excited about the opportunity to advance Embark Biotech’s lead program and look forward to co-creating novel treatments for cardiometabolic diseases with Embark Laboratories to complement our in-house R&D”.
– Brian Finan, Vice President of Obesity Research at Novo Nordisk
Embark was also interested in GPR3, another receptor on fat cells that is constantly active and stimulates fat burning. Embark and its partners published a paper on GPR3 in 2021, showing that “mice were completely protected from becoming obese on a high-fat diet even though they ate the same amount of food.”
Novo Nordisk agreed to pay up to 456 million euros ($496 million) in commercial milestones for Embark’s technology. All of Embark’s employees will join a new company, Embark Laboratories, that will focus on cardiometabolic disease and collaborate with Novo Nordisk on obesity research for three years.