Novartis muscles loss drug could combat obesity

Sept. 1, 2021

Versanis Bio, a California startup, has potentially discovered an additional use for a Novartis drug targeting muscle loss and weakness. Founded and seeded earlier this year by a biotech investment firm Aditum Bio, Versanis is looking to develop bimagrumab, which was licensed from Novartis, into a treatment for metabolic disease and obesity.

Novartis first discovered that bimagrumab could reduce weight for adults with type 2 diabetes in 2019, but Versanis Bio has picked up the baton to take the research further. Bimagrumab is an anti-activin receptor monoclonal antibody that blocks the binding of ligands including activin A and myostatin. In a dozen clinical trials involving more than 1,500 people, the treatment triggered a significant loss of fat mass while helping patients gain lean mass and metabolic improvements. 

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the obesity rate in the U.S. is at 42%, and people who are considered obese spend, on average, about $1,429 higher on health care. 

Going forward, Atlas Venture and Medicxi have co-led a $70M Series A financing with some support from Aditum Bio, which will allow Versanis Bio to start a phase II trial to test bimagrumab as an obesity treatment.