Altimmune says the weight-loss drug has minimized muscle loss in study results that could set it apart from others

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Altimmune on Wednesday it said experimental drug helped patients lose weight, but also minimized the loss of muscle mass in a mid-stage study, a finding that could potentially set the company apart in a potentially crowded market.

Altimmune is one of several smaller biotech companies pushing to compete directly Novo Nordisk And Eli Lilly enter the growing weight-loss drug market or be acquired by larger drugmakers who 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 more than 74% of the weight patients lost after weekly injections of Altimmune came from fatty tissue in the late phase of the study. Meanwhile, according to the company, only 25.5% comes from fat-free mass. These results are similar to those commonly seen with weight loss diet and exercise programs.

On average, patients lost 15.6% of their weight after taking a 2.4-milligram dose of Altimmune’s drug after 48 weeks of the study, with weight loss continuing at the end of treatment. The company first announced This weight loss data for the drug called pemvidutide was released 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.”

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.

Novo Nordisk’s 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 among a number of companies targeting the muscle-losing aspect of weight loss.

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