Ipsen, continuing oncology push, pays a startup $45M for two cancer drugs

Aiming to bolster a yearslong effort to build up an oncology business, French drugmaker Ipsen announced Monday a deal with startup Marengo Therapeutics to co-develop two potential cancer medicines.

Marengo is relatively new, having launched last November with $80 million from life sciences venture firm ATP to develop cancer immunotherapies. The startup is working on antibody drugs that bind to specific types of receptors found on the surface of T cells. Its lead drug, STAR0602, is expected to enter human testing later this year. Four other drug prospects are following behind it.

The deal hands Ipsen the rights to two unspecified preclinical drug candidates. Ipsen will pay Marengo $45 million upfront and potentially up to $1.6 billion overall if certain milestones are hit. The French company will assume all development responsibilities once Marengo seeks FDA clearance for those programs to begin clinical trials.

The agreement is the latest in a string of recent deals Ipsen has made to grow its oncology business. In 2017, Ipsen bought pancreatic cancer drug Onivyde from Merrimack Pharmaceuticals for $575 million. Last month, the company bought Epizyme, the developer of a drug for a soft tissue cancer drug named Tazverik, for $247 million.

The company also has rights to Cabometyx and Cometriq, which are used to treat kidney, liver and thyroid tumors.

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