Altimmun weight reduction drug minimized muscle mass loss in a research

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All-immune said Wednesday that its experimental drug helped patients lose weight but also minimized loss of muscle mass in an interim study, a finding that could make it stand out in a potentially crowded market.

Altimmune is one of several smaller biotech companies pushing to compete directly Novo Nordisk And Eli Lilly operate in the growing market of weight loss medications or be acquired by larger drug manufacturers that can help bring their treatments to market.

The results are an early sign that the biotech company can solve a major problem surrounding these treatments, which have generated continued demand and investor interest over the past year.

Some health experts say obesity drugs could shrink critical muscle mass, which could increase the risk of injury and reduce strength.

But in Altimmune's late-stage study, more than 74% of the weight patients lost after the company's weekly injection came from fat tissue and just 25.5% from muscle mass, according to the company. These results are similar to those commonly seen with weight loss diet and exercise programs.

Patients who took a 2.4-milligram dose of Altimmune's drug every week for 48 weeks lost an average of 15.6% of their weight in the study, with weight loss continuing even at the end of treatment, the company said.

The company first announced weight loss data for the drug, called pemvidutide, in November.

“Maintaining muscle mass during weight loss is crucial as excessive loss of muscle mass is associated with negative consequences such as: [a gradual loss of muscle mass and strength] and bone fractures, particularly in women and the elderly,” Scott Harris, Altimmune’s chief medical officer, said in a statement. “There is a growing recognition that the quality of weight loss is just as important as the quantity of weight loss.”

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In a clinical trial of semaglutide, the active ingredient in Novo Nordisk's Ozempic and Wegovy, researchers examined muscle mass loss in a subgroup of about 140 patients. On average, participants lost about 15 pounds of muscle and 23 pounds of fat during the 68-week trial.

These results suggest a greater decline in muscle mass than in Altimmune's study. Still, Altimmune needs to conduct late-stage trials of its drug, so it's too early to say what advantage it has over existing weight loss treatments.

The two medications also work differently.

Semaglutide mimics a hormone produced in the gut called GLP-1 to suppress a person's appetite. Meanwhile, Altimmune's drug activates GLP-1 and another gut hormone called glucagon, which increases energy expenditure.

Altimmune is also developing this drug to treat a common form of liver disease, metabolic dysfunction-associated steatohepatitis (MASH).

Other anti-obesity drug makers are also trying to help patients maintain muscle mass.

Eli Lilly, for example, is testing whether combining its weight-loss drug with a monoclonal antibody from Versanis Bio could help patients lose weight while maintaining muscle mass. The pharmaceutical giant recently acquired Versanis, which is one of a number of companies targeting the muscle-losing aspect of weight loss.

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