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French pharmaceutical company Ipsen has signed an agreement to acquire global oncology assets from US-based Merrimack Pharmaceuticals for $1.25bn.

The acquisition will also include Merrimack’s product Onivyde (irinotecan liposome injection) for the treatment of patients with metastatic adenocarcinoma of the pancreas.

Under the agreement, Ipsen will acquire US commercialisation rights for Onivyde and Merrimack's current licensing agreements with Shire outside of the US and with PharmaEngine for Taiwan.

Ipsen CEO David Meek said: “Pancreatic cancer is now the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths. It is an area that has had many drug failures and very few FDA approvals over the past two decades.

“For the tens of thousands of patients living with pancreatic cancer in the US who have received prior treatment with gemcitabine, Onivyde represents an important, differentiated innovation, given its proven overall survival benefit in an area of high unmet medical need with few approved therapies.”

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The transaction includes the commercial and manufacturing infrastructure, as well as generic doxorubicin HCl liposome injection of Merrimack and strengthens Ipsen’s growing oncology presence and leverages oncology infrastructure in the US.

The clinically differentiated Onivyde is FDA-approved and used to treat patients with high unmet medical needs.

"Pancreatic cancer is now the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths. It is an area that has had many drug failures and very few FDA approvals over the past two decades."

Ipsen will advance the ongoing Onivyde clinical development programme, which includes a Phase II trial in first-line, previously untreated metastatic pancreatic cancer.

The programme also involves a Phase II/III trial in relapsed small-cell lung cancer and a Phase I pilot trial in breast cancer.

The company will finance the transaction using its existing cash and lines of credit.

Subject to customary closing conditions, including governmental regulatory clearances, the transaction is expected to close by the first quarter of this year.

Image: Ipsen Pharma Biotech. Photo: © Xavier Boymond.