Roivant licenses Ligand diabetes drug, founds Metavant, as push into cardiometabolic diseases gathers pace

Roivant Sciences has picked up the rights to Ligand Pharmaceuticals’ glucagon receptor antagonist LGD-6972. The midphase Type 2 diabetes candidate slots into the pipeline of Roivant’s newly minted cardiometabolic disease startup Metavant.

Ligand is pocketing $20 million upfront in exchange for the exclusive global rights to LGD-6972, a drug it acquired in its $3.2 million takeover of Metabasis in 2010. Since then, Ligand has put the candidate through a series of clinical trials, culminating in a 12-week phase 2 in 148 Type 2 diabetics whose condition was inadequately controlled by metformin. 

The phase 2 trial linked LGD-6972 to a statistically significant decline in HbA1c, a measure of blood glucose levels, over baseline. That finding proved compelling enough to prompt Vivek Ramaswamy and his team to make LGD-6972 part of the pipeline they are putting together at Metavant.

Ramaswamy signaled his intent to use some of the $1.1 billion SoftBank committed to Roivant to move into metabolic disorders last month when he signed a deal with Poxel. That agreement gave Roivant the near-global rights to an oral oxidative phosphorylation blocker, imeglimin, that is closing in on the start of a phase 3 trial in Type 2 diabetes.

Roivant’s subsequent deal for LGD-6972 means it has paid $55 million upfront, plus a $15 million investment in Poxel, to give Metavant two advanced clinical-phase diabetes drugs. The numbers will ratchet up from here on, because of the cost of running late-phase diabetes trials and potentially the need to make milestone payments.

Roivant has committed to up to $514 million in milestones to land the rights to LGD-6972. The Poxel deal is tied to a further $600 million in milestones.  

The numbers associated with the backend of diabetes clinical development programs typically deter all bar a clutch of major drugmakers from playing in the field. But Roviant, an unusually well-financed startup creation machine, is wading into the sector as it plots a path back from the failure of the Axovant Alzheimer’s program that put it on the map.