As my husband and I recently looked through photos of our wedding, he kept repeating the same thing: “Yikes, check out my triple chin.” Click. “Another triple chin.” Click. “Hmm, maybe I need to work out.”
In reality, his perceived folds of flab were a result of unfortunate camera angles (I swear, dear. Your chin is splendid.). But if a day comes when he genuinely suffers from chin bulge, Bayer might have just the solution. Yesterday, the company agreed to fork over $43 million upfront and upwards of $300 million in milestone payments for Kythera Biopharmaceuticals’ ATX-101, an adipolytic agent “designed to reduce small volumes of facial fat.” Yes, that’s right, folks: it’s a chin fat drug.
Because I tend to cover pharmaceuticals that are more in the disease-modifying category rather than those in the aesthetics-modifying category, I was pretty shocked by the price tag. Then I took a look at Allergan’s sales forecast for its wrinkle smoother Botox—the company is predicting it will bring in about $1.3 billion this year. (Well, that’s before subtracting out the $600 million Allergan agreed to pay today to settle criminal and civil charges related to the marketing of Botox.)
In other words, the potential market for ATX-101 seems pretty vast. Indeed, I imagine my husband isn’t the only one to look at a photo (poorly angled or not) and cringe. ATX-101 is in Phase II studies, and seems to be administrated in a relatively painless injection.
All this made me wonder how one goes about getting rid of small fat deposits without, well, sucking them out. It looks like the folks at Kythera, which is conveniently based in Los Angeles, first thought the active component in the formulation of ATX-101 was phosphatidylcholine, a major component of biological membranes that sports a polar head and fatty acid tails. However, further studies showed that deoxycholate, a secondary bile acid put into the formulation to make the phosphatidylcholine micelles soluble, was actually the secret to getting rid of unsightly chin fat. Deoxycholate, a detergent, causes a shift in the osmotic balance of a cell–in other words, water rushes into the fat cell, causing it to burst. The finding was curious, as deoxycholate appeared to be only affecting fat tissues when administered in vivo. Kythera eventually determined that deoxycholate isn’t necessarily selective for fat cells, but that tissues in the subcutaneous fat that are protein rich are resistant to its effects. Hence, when administered locally, it appears to be able to get rid of the fat without impacting other tissues. And there you have it, drug goes in, fatty chin goes out. Since later stage trials are pending, the chin-fat sensitive will have to stick to photoshop for now.
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