'We have not seen anything similar': Novo Nordisk pens $600M obesity pact with Flagship's Metaphore

In its ongoing mission to find the next Wegovy, Novo Nordisk has penned another partnership to seek out next-gen obesity treatments. This time, it's a $600 million biobucks pact with Flagship-founded Metaphore Biotechnologies to develop up to two candidates.

The latest agreement is part of a broader partnership between Flagship Pioneering and Novo that takes aim at cardiometabolic and rare diseases. Inked back in 2022, the collaboration is designed to leverage the Big Pharma’s disease expertise and the technology from Flagship’s bioplatform companies to generate three to five research programs within the first three years. So far in 2024, it has also resulted in agreements with Omega Therapeutics and Cellarity.

Enter Metaphore, the third partnership made under the alliance, a milestone that puts the pact right on track with its broader goal, Uli Stilz, Ph.D., head of Novo Nordisk’s Bio Innovation Hub, told Fierce Biotech. 

Uli Stilz
Uli Stilz, Ph.D.
​​​​​ (Novo Nordisk)

Flagship unveiled Metaphore and its mission to combine machine learning and molecular mimicry to design new therapeutics in May 2023. Now, the biotech will work jointly with Novo and Pioneering Medicines, Flagship’s in-house drug development and partnerships arm, to advance multitarget therapeutics through preclinical development. Novo then will have the option to advance the programs to clinical studies.

There’s $600 million up for grabs, money that encompasses an undisclosed upfront amount and future development and commercial milestone payments as well as tiered royalties. These payouts will be split between Metaphore and Pioneering Medicines.

Under the deal terms, Novo is also slated to participate in a future financing round for Metaphore. The biotech launched with an initial $50 million from Flagship, but Lovisa Afzelius, Ph.D., Metaphore co-founder and CEO, told Fierce that the company couldn’t comment on a timeline for future fundraising. 

Lovisa Afzelius, PHD
Lovisa Afzelius, Ph.D. (Metaphore)

The young biotech’s platform, dubbed MIMIC, focuses on replicating the work of pharmacophores, chemical combination codes that guide the interaction between molecules that spur downstream behavior. Metaphore is focusing on complex signaling such as agonism, antagonists and bias signaling while targeting multispecificity and multicell activity, according to Afzelius.

“We have not seen anything similar somewhere else,” Novo’s Stilz said of Metaphore’s platform, adding that the Big Pharma believes MIMIC is uniquely positioned to address the unmet needs that still exist for patients with obesity.

The partners will work to develop therapeutics leveraging GLP-1R and related biology that are scalable, long-lasting agents that require infrequent dosing.

“What’s available today is either once-daily or once-weekly—we certainly want to go beyond once weekly,” Stilz said.  

Afzelius believes Metaphore’s science can help not only extend durability but also enhance efficacy and optimize manufacturing for a single therapeutic addressing multiple obesity-related targets.

Metaphore's science is designed to serve as nature's copycat, so engineered therapeutics can trigger the desired biological response. The aptly named biotech believes its platform offers the ability to unlock hard-to-reach targets and allow for ideal modality usage.

While the company hasn’t publicly disclosed any pipeline programs, Afzelius said Metaphore is pursuing an immunology project in addition to its obesity work with Novo.