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The Pulse of the Pharmaceutical Industry

Pfizer Takes Stake in Rhythm Pharmaceuticals

Written by: | | Dated: Thursday, October 19th, 2017


Pfizer Quietly Takes Passive Stake in Rhythm Pharmaceuticals

By Alex Keown


Shortly after Rhythm Pharmaceuticals Inc. made its public debut on the Nasdaq Exchange, Pfizer has snapped up a small percentage of the company focused on treating rare genetic disorders that lead to obesity.

According to an Oct. 18 filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Pfizer acquired 1,427,639 shares of Rhythm’s common stock. That amounts to about a 5.4 percent stake in the company.

Pfizer made its move to acquire a stake shortly after Rhythm went public. In September, the company announced it was seeking to raise about $115 million in an Initial Public Offering of $17 per share. The stock made its debut on Oct. 5 and quickly climbed to $30 per share, which yielded the company about $120 million. Since its debut though, prices have declined to $23.86 per share.

Pfizer’s SEC filing does not provide specifics on why the company acquired a 5 percent stake, but Rhythm’s lead drug candidate setmelanotide is showing some clinical promise in the treatment of obesity caused by rare diseases.

Rhythm went public a few months after it announced positive initial results from an ongoing Phase Ia clinical trial evaluating the pharmacokinetics and tolerability of an extended-release formulation of setmelanotide. Rhythm’s lead drug, setmelanotide is a novel melanocortin-4 receptor (MC4R) agonist being developed for the treatment of rare genetic disorders of obesity. The drug is delivered as a once-per-week subcutaneous injection. The obesity targets the company is taking aim at are caused by genetic deficiencies in the MC4 pathway, a biological pathway in people that regulates weight by increasing energy expenditure and reducing appetite. The Phase Ia trial is studying the pharmacokinetics and tolerability of three doses of setmelanotide in healthy obese patients.

Setmelanotide is also being studied in a Phase II trial for the treatment of obesity caused by Bardet-Biedl syndrome (BBS), a monogenic disorder that causes severe obesity and an insatiable appetite. Patients with the rare disease can also experience vision loss and kidney abnormalities.

Additionally, Rhythm is studying setmelanotide in a Phase III trial for the treatment of pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) deficiency obesity, an ultra-rare genetic disorder associated with severe, early-onset obesity and unrelenting, abnormally increased appetite (hyperphagia).

Rhythm also has setmelanotide trials underway for the treatment of LepR deficiency obesity, Prader-Willi syndrome and Alström syndrome.

Last year, Rhythm’s sister company Motus Therapeutics was acquired by Allergan for $200 million. Allergan struck after Motus’ drug candidate relamorelin (RM-131), a ghrelin agonist, after the drug passed a Phase IIb efficacy trial for diabetic gastroparesis with flying colors. Trial results indicate patients taking the treatment for 12 weeks saw a 75 percent reduction of vomiting and abdominal pain in the targeted population of diabetic patients.


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