Boehringer, Zealand hit reset on GLP-1 diabetes program

After more than two years of work on a GLP-1-targeting diabetes drug, partners Boehringer Ingelheim and Zealand Pharma are planning to start over, hitting the brakes on their program and looking to move on with a to-be-determined new compound.

The U.K.'s Zealand is still due as much as $510 million in its multi-year collaboration with Boehringer, but ZP2929, a once-a-day glucagon/GLP-1 dual agonist, will no longer be the star of the show. Instead, the partners will pick a new lead candidate from the portfolio of similarly targeted drugs they've discovered over the past two years, possibly one designed for weekly dosing.

Zealand CEO David Solomon sounded a positive note on his company's "fruitful" collaboration with Boehringer, saying the two "continue to share excitement and strong commitment as to the potential of dual-acting glucagon/GLP-1 agonists as a unique and promising new approach" to diabetes and obesity.

"However, on ZP2929 we have differed in our views regarding the appropriate way forward in the development of this drug candidate," Solomon said in a statement. "As a consequence, we have agreed with Boehringer Ingelheim that Zealand will retain the full control over the program, leaving us the opportunity to apply our unique peptide drug capabilities to its continuation."

It's unclear just what happened in the midst of ZP2929's Phase I development to spur that difference, and Boehringer didn't respond to a request for comment Wednesday. However, it's quite possible that Boehringer found itself devoting time and money to a once-a-day treatment that would likely have to contend with weekly formulations in a fast-crowding market for GLP-1 therapies.

ZP2929 was once pegged as a potential blockbuster, but late-stage treatments like Eli Lilly's ($LLY) dulaglutide, GlaxoSmithKline's ($GSK) albiglutide, and Sanofi ($SNY) and Zealand's lixisenatide have the potential to upend a market now led by Novo Nordisk's ($NVO) Victoza and AstraZeneca's ($AZN) Byetta and Bydureon, and Boehringer may be heading back to the drawing board to find a promising weekly candidate of its own.

- read the statement