New Phase IIb data suggests a combination therapy of Akero Therapeutics’s efruxifermin and Novo Nordisk’s Ozempic (semaglutide) can reduce liver fat in non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH).

Akero announced positive Phase IIb results from an expansion cohort testing efruxifermin and Ozempic agonist against Ozempic alone in 31 patients with Type 2 diabetes and liver fibrosis due to NASH. Patients receiving the efruxifermin-Ozempic combo had a 65% relative reduction in liver fat, compared to just 10% for patients receiving only Ozempic.

Meanwhile, 88% of patients treated with the combo therapy had normalised liver fat at week 12, compared to 10% of patients only treated with Ozempic. Akero reported similar adverse events in both treatment groups and did not report any drug-related serious adverse events.

Drug development in NASH and Ozempic

Though the Phase IIb cohort was relatively small, the combination therapy could boost Akero’s development prospects for efruxifermin in the lucrative NASH market. GlobalData estimates that the global market for NASH therapies will exceed $25 billion in 2029.

Meanwhile, the new positive data adds to the growing hype surrounding Ozempic. The GLP-1 agonist is already boasting blockbuster sales in diabetes, and the drug is similarly making strides in the obesity indication where it is marketed as Wegovy.

That said, success in the NASH space could spell another major market opportunity for GLP-1 agonists. In addition to Ozempic, the GLP-1 agonist space is increasingly crowded, particularly now that Eli Lilly’s tirzepatide had positive Phase III data in obesity.

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Overall, the race to develop new drugs for NASH has proven more of a marathon than a sprint, despite the high unmet patient need for treatments. As drug development continues to heat up, researchers are also innovating new diagnostic strategies to detect the liver disease.