Nutritionist calculating body mass index of woman for obesity treatment in a clinic room. Current research shows the gut microbiome may also influence risk for obesity.
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Fauna Bio has announced a multi-year agreement with Eli Lilly and Company to apply Fauna’s Convergence artificial intelligence (AI) platform for preclinical drug discovery in obesity. Fauna’s unique platform analyzes data collected from animal hibernation biology (and other extreme adaptations) to identify drug targets for humans.

The terms of this deal include an upfront payment, including an equity investment, and Fauna is eligible to receive up to an aggregate $494 million in pre-clinical, clinical and commercial milestone payments, as well as royalties on product sales. The two companies will collaborate to identify multiple drug targets. 

With the launch of Novo Nordisk’s Wegovy (semaglutide) in 2021, and just recently Lilly’s Zepbound (tirzepatide), this market has expanded rapidly. Unlike previous weight loss drugs, these are very effective. And now many players want in the game.The global market for anti-obesity medications reached $6 billion this year and could grow to $100 billion in a few more, according to Goldman Sachs Research. Lilly in particular wants a big slice of this market, and is on the hunt for obesity deals.

“Lilly is a leader in obesity treatment, and our approach enables and accelerates discovery across different disease areas and modalities for our partners, who bring deep expertise in drug development,” said Ashley Zehnder, CEO and co-founder, Fauna Bio. 

In a recent blog post, Fauna co-founder and CSO Katie Grabek, PhD, explained how her company could use extreme animal physiological models to find novel therapeutic targets. 

For example, she wrote, “The hibernating 13-lined ground squirrel is a natural animal model of extreme physiology of weight gain and weight loss. Each and every year of their life, this mammal doubles their body weight in fat accumulation by eating voraciously over just a few short months in the summer and then enters hibernation in an obese state during the fall… In the spring, the animals will emerge from hibernation quite lean and devoid of body fat.” 

The Convergence AI platform leverages genomic analyses across 452 mammal species, including 65 hibernators. Fauna’s primary discovery biobank data includes over 22 distinct tissue types collected at 13 unique and highly precise physiological time-points from the 13-lined ground squirrel, as well as tissue samples from tenrecs, and spiny mice. In total, Fauna has collected thousands of transcriptomes, proteomes, and epigenomes and over 22 billion sequence reads.

Building on these datasets, Fauna says Convergence is “The world’s first biomedical knowledge graph that integrates data from human patients and animals that naturally resist disease.” Training on this knowledge graph, Convergence selects drug targets using an in-house custom Graph Neural Network that is equipped with over 980 million model parameters. The combination of AI and unique data allows for rapid and novel target identification.

Ruth Gimeno, PhD, group vice president, diabetes, obesity and cardiometabolic research at Lilly, said, “Fauna Bio brings a unique approach to the discovery of novel targets for obesity. We look forward to working with the Fauna Bio team to realize the value of their platform and discover more effective treatments for patients with obesity.”

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