AstraZeneca, a prominent pharmaceutical company, has announced its plans to enter the weight-loss drug market. This move comes as its shares have been trailing behind competitors Eli Lilly and Novo Nordisk. The company recently entered into an exclusive licensing agreement with Chinese company Eccogene, worth up to $2 billion, for the development of a drug aimed at treating obesity and Type 2 diabetes.
ECC5004: The Promising Drug
AstraZeneca's new drug, ECC5004, belongs to the class of GLP-1 receptor agonists, a category pioneered by Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly. These drugs have garnered substantial attention in both cultural and market spheres due to their potential to revolutionize obesity treatment. With the announcement of this collaboration, AstraZeneca aims to tap into the growing hype surrounding this class of medications.
Positive Market Response
AstraZeneca's American depositary receipts experienced a slight increase of 1.68% in early trading on Thursday. However, they have seen a decline of 4.81% so far this year. Despite this setback, shareholders remain hopeful that progress on the drug will allow AstraZeneca to replicate the achievements of Novo Nordisk ADRs, which have surged by 50% this year, or Eli Lilly, which has seen a remarkable 65% increase.
In contrast, Novo Nordisk ADRs dipped slightly by 0.4% on Thursday, while Eli Lilly experienced a more significant drop of 2.4%. This decline offsets some of the gains from the previous day when Eli Lilly received approval from the Food and Drug Administration for its obesity treatment.
Stepping Into the Market
AstraZeneca still has a long way to go before it can compete with the market leaders. The initial licensing of Eccogene's treatment comes with an upfront payment of $185 million, as the drug is currently in Phase 1 trials. Phase 2 trials are scheduled for next year. One advantage is that ECC5004 is an oral pill, unlike the treatments offered by Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly, which require injections. However, both Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly are also investing in the development of oral versions of their drugs.
Etzer Darout, an analyst at BMO Capital Markets, views the licensing deal as a positive step for AstraZeneca. He maintains an Outperform rating and a target price of $83 for AstraZeneca ADRs.