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Eli Lilly said Friday it will acquire Versanis Bio, a private company developing an obesity drug that specifically targets fat mass, as the race among pharmaceutical companies to offer weight loss medications intensifies.

The deal indicates Lilly is aiming to diversify its growing portfolio of weight loss therapies, as Versanis’ drug employs an entirely different mechanism than the existing obesity drugs that Lilly is studying. The pharma giant didn’t say how much it would pay Versanis upfront, but said that if the drug meets certain milestones, the total payment could reach $1.9 billion.


Lilly, along with other pharma companies like Novo Nordisk, has been developing products in the class of GLP-1 drugs, which mimic the glucagon-like peptide 1 hormone that helps people feel full. These drugs – including Novo’s Ozempic and Wegovy, and Lilly’s Mounjaro – have exploded in popularity because they lead to significant weight loss.

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