Pfizer diet pill continues as once-daily version

Pfizer said on Thursday that it will moving forward with a once-daily version of its diet pill, danugliprone, after seeing “encouraging” data in an ongoing early-stage study.

The company evaluated several once-daily formulations of the drug and identified the one with “the most favorable profile” in terms of safety and how the body responds to the drug.

Pfizer said it plans to conduct more early-stage studies in the second half of the year to identify the ideal dose of the drug, with results expected in the first quarter of next year, a spokesperson told CNBC. The company said those studies “will inform the registration-enabling studies” used in applications for regulatory approval.

Danugliprone “has demonstrated 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 outgoing Chief Scientific Officer, Dr. Mikael Dolsten, said in a press release. Notably, the company has not observed any liver safety issues in patients receiving once-daily formulations of the drug.

Pfizer is one of several pharmaceutical companies vying to grab a piece of the market for a very popular class of weight-loss and diabetes drugs called GLP-1 agonists. Some analysts expect the industry to be worth the effort about $100 billion by the end of the decade.

But Pfizer has struggled to enter the market so far.

The pharmaceutical giant discontinued a twice-daily version of danugliprone in December after patients had trouble tolerating the drug in a mid-stage study. At the time, Pfizer said early study data on the once-daily version “to indicate a path forward.”

But investors have been pessimistic about the company’s potential in the GLP-1 space since it scrapped another once-daily pill in June 2023 because of elevated liver enzymes in patients taking the treatment. Those were among the setbacks Pfizer faced last year, on top of a rapid decline in its Covid business, which battered its stock.

Yet Pfizer has other experimental obesity drugs in early development. The company has not disclosed how those treatments will work.

“Obesity is an important therapeutic area for Pfizer and the company has a robust pipeline of three clinical and several preclinical candidates,” Dolsten said in the press release.

Pfizer also believes that GLP-1s are just the tip of the iceberg of what we'll see in obesity, CEO Albert Bourla said at a conference in June.

More CNBC Healthcare Coverage

Pfizer's Danugliprone is a GLP-1 drug that promotes weight loss in the same way as New Nordisk's injection Wegovy and diabetes treatment Ozempic. The drugs mimic a single hormone produced in the gut called GLP-1, which signals the brain when a person is full.

Injections from Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly have increased dramatically in demand over the past year, despite their high price tag and limited insurance coverage.

The duo — along with Pfizer and other pharmaceutical companies — are busy developing oral versions that are easier for patients to take and easier to manufacture, which could help ease the U.S. supply shortage.

Pfizer has previously indicated that it could acquire or partner with a smaller manufacturer of anti-obesity drugs.

Bourla told reporters at a conference in January that Pfizer was unlikely to buy an obesity drug that was in later stages of development, especially as the company focuses on cost savings.

But he said Pfizer was looking for potential licensing deals or weight-loss drugs at an earlier stage.

Pfizer's update on danugliprone comes days after the company said it was looking for a successor to Dolsten, who step down after more than 15 years at the pharmaceutical company. Dolsten played a crucial role in the development of Pfizer's Covid vaccine.

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