Pfizer is hoping for daily pills to crack the weight-loss drug market

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Pfizer plans to test a daily weight-loss pill in mid-trials later this year, as the struggling drug group pins its hopes on the experimental drug as its way into a market estimated to be worth more than $130 billion a year.

The New York-based drugmaker said Thursday 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 it can find a path to growth after the Covid-19 pandemic, as sales of its blockbuster vaccine and other Covid products have plummeted.

Late last year, the drugmaker suspended trials of a twice-daily version of danuglipron after the drug succeeded in weight loss in obese patients but caused nausea, vomiting and gastrointestinal side effects.

Mikael Dolsten, Pfizer’s outgoing chief scientific officer, said Thursday that danuglipron “has shown good efficacy in a twice-daily formulation, and we believe that 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 have to catch up with rival drugs. Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly, 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 mid-trial weight loss pills, as other drug companies such as AstraZeneca and Amgen rush to find a new player in the lucrative market.

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

Pfizer’s first-quarter revenue fell 20 percent from a year earlier to $14.8 billion, driven by a sharp decline in sales of its Covid shot and Covid treatment pill Paxlovid.

At an investor conference organized 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-1 “only scratches the surface of what we’re going to see in obesity”.

Weight-loss injections faced the “most imminent competition,” he said, and Pfizer had a chance to launch an oral formulation two years after Eli Lilly.

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

Shares of Pfizer, which have more than halved from their pandemic-era peak, rose 1.3 percent shortly after Wall Street’s opening bell on Thursday.

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