JPM24: Amgen CEO hopes to take a bite of competitive obesity market with unique approach

After last year saw the rise of popular obesity treatments, biopharma's interest in the field only appears to only be growing. As established players Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly look to extend their foothold in the disease area, several competitors wait on the sidelines, eager to enter the ring. 

For its part, Amgen didn’t “wake up one day and say gosh, there’s a big market for obesity medicines, maybe we ought to jump in,” CEO Robert Bradway remarked at the 42nd annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco. Instead, the company has been eying the disease area over time and looking to “thoughtfully" make a play.

That means developing “differentiated, complimentary ways to try and help address what is an enormous global burden, and one that we think we can make a big difference in," Bradway said.

So far, the company has several assets to show for it. Aside from its phase 2 candidate MariTide, or maridebart cafraglutide, and an oral small molecule dubbed AMG 786 that’s currently in phase 1, Amgen has a preclinical pipeline of “a half dozen or so” obesity candidates that are “rapidly advancing.”

The drugmaker looks to stand out from the tough competition with a fresh approach. MariTide "agonizes the GLP-1 receptor while antagonizing the gastric inhibitory polypeptide receptor," a strategy the company settled on after looking at human genetic data, Bradway said. Amgen hopes studies will prove that the two interventions together can provide quicker and more effective weight loss and possibly better weight loss maintenance.

If all goes well, MariTide will be evaluated in other obesity-related conditions aside from weight loss, such as heart and kidney disease. As research in the field progresses, obesity could be seen as a “more heterogenous disease” than it is today, requiring different complementary approaches, Bradway said.

Entering an area rife with competition is always a risk. Amgen is “normally first-in-class and very often only-in-class,” but now finds itself following others, Bradway acknowledged. But with its differentiated molecule in development, the company is confident that its approach is different to currently available products. 

Elsewhere, the company spent 2023 establishing itself as a “global leader” in biosimilars and looks to continue that momentum in 2024 and beyond. The next three assets that will launch from Amgen’s biosimilar arsenal are copycats to Johnson & Johnson’s Stelara, AstraZeneca's Soliris and Regeneron’s Eylea. Beyond those three, the company is working on a biosimilar to Bristol Myers Squibb’s oncology star Opdivo as well as two other undisclosed opportunities.