Home Interviews Iconovo initiates development of inhaled obesity treatment

Iconovo initiates development of inhaled obesity treatment


Iconovo initiates development of inhaled obesity treatment

21 May, 2024

Iconovo has filed a broad patent application for inhaled GLP-1 receptor agonists, used for the treatment of obesity and type 2 diabetes. This is a rapidly growing market, and Iconovo aims to introduce a more patient-friendly alternative to today’s injections.
– This marks the first step in Iconovo’s new initiative to develop more convenient, reliable, and cost-effective treatments for obesity, the company stated.

Iconovo’s core competence lies within the inhalation area, where the company possesses extensive experience in developing both inhalers and dry powder formulations.

Iconovo focuses on both the development of new inhaled drugs and the reformulation of existing substances into inhaled drugs. In recent months, the company has been working to identify promising substances suitable for reformulation, with the goal of building a portfolio of candidates that are ready for partnership.

GLP-1 treatments

Drugs for weight loss are a rapidly growing field with significant advancements in recent years. Iconovo is now choosing to seize the opportunities in this area by developing inhaled GLP-1 products.Formulärets överkant

GLP-1 receptor agonists, also known as GLP-1 analogues, are medications that mimic the action of the hormone GLP-1 (Glucagon-like peptide-1) by binding to its receptor. GLP-1 lowers blood sugar levels by increasing insulin production and promoting feelings of fullness after eating.

– As a leading inhalation company, with a range of fully developed inhaler platforms and the competence to formulate pharmaceutical compounds into powders, we are in a perfect position to take a step into reformulation of selected high-value products in areas where inhalation can offer significant patient benefits, says Iconovo’s CEO Johan Wäborg in a press release.

Hot topic

The most talked-about GLP-1 treatment is probably Ozempic (semaglutide), developed by Novo Nordisk for the treatment of type 2 diabetes, but it has also been widely prescribed for obesity. Novo also has another treatment, Wegovy, which contains the same active substance but is intended for weight loss. During Q1 2024, sales of Ozempic amounted to DKK 27.8 billion, while Wegovy was sold for DKK 9.3 billion.

Eli Lilly’s competing drug, Zepbound, was approved by the FDA at the end of 2023 and had sales of USD 517.4 million during Q1.

Even though GLP-1 treatments have proven to be effective for many patients, some challenges remain. The injection treatments are perceived as both expensive and inconvenient to administer.

– Most of today’s GLP-1 treatments, like Zepbound (Eli Lilly) and Wegovy (Novo Nordisk), are administered via subcutaneous injection, which is considered both stressful and painful by many patients, Iconovo writes in a press release.

Competitive advantages of inhaled therapy

Iconovo’s inhaled GLP-1 treatments would give patients access to an alternative that is pain-free and more convenient. Unlike injection, no cold storage is required to ensure the treatment’s durability, making inhaled treatment more reliable and cost-effective.

At present, there is one oral GLP-1 treatment on the market, Rybelsus (semaglutide in tablet form), and more are under development. However, the oral alternatives have been hampered by low bioavailability.

–  So far, bioavailability has been a major challenge with only about 1 per cent of the active drug reaching its target, Iconovo writes.

Iconovo estimates that inhaled GLP-1 would reach efficacy levels comparable to injected treatments.

Opportunity to include more diseases

Iconovo’s project primarily focuses on the treatment of obesity, but there is also the possibility to include other metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease, cardiovascular disease and sleep apnea. The company’s proprietary inhalers will be used for the project. According to Iconovo, the investments required in the initial development phase are limited. The aim is to license selected products after achieving preclinical proof-of-concept.

High market value

Iconovo’s patent application for inhaled GLP-1 receptor agonists addresses a very large and rapidly growing market worth USD 35 billion and is expected to grow at an annual rate of 17 per cent to USD 90 billion in 2029, according to GlobalData.

– We are very excited to take this important step towards the development of a next generation of patient-friendly GLP-1 treatments with sustained efficacy, says Iconovo’s CEO Johan Wäborg.

Johan Wäborg
Johan Wäborg, CEO of Iconovo

BioStock contacted Johan Wäborg to learn more about the company’s new investment in inhaled GLP-1-products.

First and foremost, how do you view the significance of Iconovo’s new venture into the obesity area for the company’s future development?

– We will continue to focus on bringing our generic inhalation therapies to market, starting with a generic product for Symbicort based on our ICOres platform, followed by generic products for GSK’s Ellipta focusing on Breo/Relvar and Trelegy. However, the next significant growth wave will come from reformulations of existing substances, and here we see a tremendous market opportunity in the GLP-1 market by replacing injections with inhalation. The clinical results from existing GLP-1 analogues are fantastic, and we can offer an alternative that is patient-friendly and does not require invasive treatment.

Apart from increased user-friendliness and sustainability, what other potential benefits do inhaled GLP-1 products offer compared to injectables?

– Our aim is to provide a more patient-friendly product with maintained efficacy by replacing injection with inhalation. Existing products are long-acting, so we do not expect any additional clinical benefits with inhalation. However, one should not underestimate the benefit of avoiding worrisome and sometimes painful injections. In the treatment of many diseases, injection treatments are held back as a last-line treatment – precisely because of patients’ instinctive resistance to penetrating the skin with a needle. Looking at today’s market in the USA for glucagon, you can see that a nasal version of glucagon has taken significant market share from injections.

You describe your patent application as broad – could you elaborate?

– We cannot delve into any technical details, of course, but the patent protects a technique for administering, for example, GLP-1, in the form of an inhaled dry powder. A dry powder provides many advantages as it remains stable at room temperature and does not require refrigeration. This reduces the cost of the product and makes handling much simpler for the user.

– What makes the patent broad is that the technique can be applied to a large number of different peptides, where GLP-1 is just one example. Another aspect that broadens the patent is that the technique can be used to deliver the drug to both the nose and the lungs. There is even a possibility of simultaneously delivering the drug to both the nose and the lungs in the same breath. This highly versatile technique provides the drug developer with significant opportunities to choose the path that offers the best clinical effect. Together with our inhalers, we now have a complete, versatile, and cost-effective platform for the future.

You are entering a highly sought-after but also competitive area. What opportunities and challenges do you see within this field?

  We are aware that many companies are vying for a slice of this large pie. Numerous oral products are being developed to be more patient-friendly in terms of administration, but they often struggle with bioavailability, especially if they involve peptides. Additionally, companies attempting to influence the GLP-1 receptor in other ways must achieve the impressive efficacy levels seen with Wegovy and Zepbound while avoiding other side effects. We believe this is a challenge and therefore aim to offer a patient-friendly product with the remarkable effects that today’s products deliver.

What steps do you need to take to achieve preclinical proof-of-concept and license out the products?

– We need to take several steps before reaching preclinical proof-of-concept. We will start by finding good suppliers of the substances we plan to formulate and then develop a formulation that reaches the airways, is absorbed into the bloodstream with sufficient bioavailability and sustained efficacy and is stable over time. We will also demonstrate in selected animal models that the product reaches the bloodstream as intended. Additionally, we will continuously strengthen the patent portfolio for this development.

The content of BioStock’s news and analyses is independent but the work of BioStock is to a certain degree financed by life science companies. The above article concerns a company from which BioStock has received financing.

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