By John Carroll
Editor & Founder
Just weeks after its widely lauded genetics research arm tagged a promising new target for obesity, Regeneron has signed up an industry heavyweight to collaborate with on developing new drugs that can potentially act as a game-changer in what has proven to be a tough field for developers.

The Regeneron Genetics Center published a paper in Science at the beginning of this month highlighting how their work sequencing the genomes of 650,000 people highlighted how people with at least 1 inactive copy of the GPR75 gene weighed on average 12 pounds less than the rest of the population with a 54% reduction in risk of obesity.

The Regeneron team then confirmed the work in a mouse study. Regeneron co-founder and chief scientist George Yancopoulos says they plan to split costs — as well as any future profits — with AstraZeneca’s Mene Pangalos, who heads up the R&D work separate from oncology. They presented the new alliance as a marriage of Regeneron’s expertise in genetics with AstraZeneca’s knowledge of chemistry and small molecules that could come into play here.
Christopher Still, director for the Geisinger Obesity Research Institute at the Geisinger Medical Center, quickly linked the potential for any obesity drug with a reduction in risk for a host of co-morbidities that afflict the obese:

While the behavioral and environmental ties to obesity are well understood, the discovery of GPR75 helps us put the puzzle pieces together to better understand the influence of genetics. Further studies and evaluation are needed to determine if reducing weight in this manner can also lower the risk of conditions commonly associated with high BMI, such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and fatty liver disease.
Regeneron still partners with others in the industry, though it’s restructured the major R&D partnerships like the deal it once had with Sanofi, which produced the blockbuster Dupixent. One of their projects also offered a breakthrough based on their genetics research with PCSK9, though that drug never lived up to its initial commercial promise.

Nevertheless, Regeneron remains convinced that its genetics center will point the way to the big blockbusters of the future — even in a failure-prone field like obesity, where the regulatory bar on safety remains high.

AstraZeneca has been making a variety of moves after achieving its long-awaited turnaround under CEO Pascal Soriot. That includes buying Alexion and making it a new subsidiary for rare diseases and now aligning itself with Regeneron on a big field like obesity.