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

Vivek Ramaswamy
Vivek Ramaswamy is Roivant Sciences' CEO. (Roivant)

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.

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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.