Ipsen’s $247M Epizyme acquisition brings approved cancer drug & more in pipeline




Ipsen has been reshaping its drug lineup by striking deals and its latest one is a $247 million agreement to acquire Epizyme, a cancer drug developer with one commercialized product and a pipeline of additional therapeutic candidates.

The key piece of the acquisition is Tazverik, a third-line treatment for follicular lymphoma. While that drug is the first in a class of therapies that treats cancer by targeting a particular enzyme key to tumor growth, it has been a modest seller since its 2020 FDA approval. Ipsen must now show it can grow sales of the product in an increasingly competitive follicular lymphoma market.

According to financial terms announced Monday, Paris-based Ipsen will pay $1.45 per share to acquire Epizyme. That price is a 52.6% premium to Epizyme’s closing stock price on Friday but Ipsen is still picking up the company for cheap as the rough financial markets continue to batter share prices across the biotech sector. A year ago, Epizyme’s shares traded at around $8 apiece. The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company went public in 2013 at $15 per share.

Tazverik accounted for $30.9 million in revenue in 2021, a 19.4% increase over 2020 sales. In the first quarter of this year, Epizyme reported $8.6 million in sales for the drug. The acquisition agreement pledges to pay Epizyme shareholders more depending on Tazverik’s sales growth. The deal includes a contingent value right that will pay an additional 30 cents per share when the drug’s sales reach $250 million, excluding Japan and Greater China, for four consecutive quarters by the end of 2026.

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Growth of Tazverik’s sales could depend on winning regulatory approval as an earlier line of treatment for follicular lymphoma. The drug has reached a Phase 3 test that is evaluating the therapy in combination with Revlimid and rituximab, a drug combination currently used as a second-line therapy for the cancer. According to the acquisition agreement, Ipsen pledges to pay another 70 cents per share upon Tazverik securing regulatory approval as a second-line therapy for follicular lymphoma by Jan. 1, 2028. The pivotal study is expected to report preliminary data in 2026.

In a Monday morning investor presentation, Ipsen CEO David Loew said that approval of Tazverik as a second-line therapy for follicular lymphoma could push the drug to $800 million in peak sales. He added that the drug’s efficacy and safety profile make it particularly suited for treating elderly and frail patients, who are typically treated in community-based settings.

Tazverik is a small molecule designed to target EZH2, an enzyme that plays a role in the development and growth of cancer cells. In follicular lymphoma, the drug is approved for treating patients whose tumors are positive for an EZH2 mutation. Months before the 2020 regulatory nod in follicular lymphoma, the FDA approved the drug for treating epithelioid sarcoma, a rare soft-tissue cancer.

In follicular lymphoma, Tazverik competes against Yescarta and Kymriah, CAR T cell therapies from Gilead Sciences and Novartis respectively. As a small molecule, Tazverik’s oral formulation offers a dosing advantage over the infused cell therapies, which are manufactured in a lengthy multi-step process. But the follicular lymphoma market earlier this gained a new treatment option with the European approval of Roche’s Lunsumio, a bispecific antibody. That drug still awaits an FDA decision.

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The Epizyme pipeline includes EZM0414, a drug designed to block an SETD2, an enzyme that plays a role in the process in which cells become cancerous. Epizyme has started a Phase 1/1b trial in multiple myeloma and diffuse large B-cell lymphoma that has relapsed or has not responded to an earlier line of therapy.

Ipsen booked €2.9 billion (about $3 billion) in sales last year. Somatuline, a synthetic hormone approved to treat the hormone disorder acromegaly as well as tumors in the gut and pancreas, is the company’s only blockbuster seller. The oncology portfolio also includes is Cabometyx, which has approvals for advanced kidney, liver and thyroid cancers. The drug was developed by Alameda, California-based Exelixis. A 2016 collaboration that paid Exelixis $210 million up front gave Ipsen rights to the drug outside of North America and Japan. Other deals have brought earlier-stage cancer drug candidates to Ipsen’s pipeline. Last year, the company acquired rights to a small molecule from BAKX Therapeutics in preclinical development for leukemia, lymphoma and solid tumors.

The Ipsen and Epizyme boards of directors have approved the Epizyme acquisition, which is expected to close by the end of the third quarter of this year.

Public domain image by the National Cancer Institute

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