A regimen involving the pancreatic cancer treatment Onivyde and chemotherapy helped extend the lives of newly diagnosed patients with metastatic disease, a finding that boosts the drug’s owner, Ipsen, as well as the shell of the biotechnology company that originally developed the treatment.
In a statement on Wednesday, Ipsen said, without details, that the Onivyde-chemo combination helped patients with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma live longer than those who received a different chemo regimen in a Phase 3 trial. Ipsen didn’t provide specifics, including the drug’s effect size, but said that details will be presented at a future medical meeting.
The news sent shares in Onivyde’s original developer, the cancer biotech Merrimack Pharmaceuticals, soaring more than 200%. Merrimack is no longer developing drugs, having laid off all of its employees in 2019 after years of financial struggles and clinical setbacks. But the company’s stock is still publicly traded because of a 2017 deal in which Ipsen acquired rights to Onivyde.
That deal left the company’s shareholders eligible to receive $225 million if the Food and Drug Administration approves Onivyde in first-line pancreatic cancer, an indication Ipsen intends to apply for in light of the results announced on Wednesday.
The FDA initially approved Onivyde, a long-acting form of the chemotherapy irinotecan, in 2015 for patients whose pancreatic cancer hasn’t responded to first-line chemotherapy. Yet Merrimack struggled to make headway with Onivyde. Sales of the drug failed to meet investor expectations, and the company never became profitable while research and interest costs mounted. Merrimack responded by cutting jobs and restructuring in 2016, and selling rights to Onivyde a year later to fund other programs.
Those efforts also backfired, however, leading the company to sell off its other assets and fire its remaining staff after it couldn’t find a buyer. But Merrimack preserved enough cash to survive as a corporation through 2027, when the final Ipsen milestone could be paid.
For Ipsen, meanwhile, the new results could help broaden the reach of the treatment to newly diagnosed patients with pancreatic cancer, a particularly difficult tumor to treat.
The roughly 770-patient study compared a combination of Onivyde and chemotherapies typically used with irinotecan to a different, standard chemo regimen for pancreatic cancer. Ipsen said patients given the Onivyde combination lived longer than those given the comparison treatment, the trial’s main goal, and the difference was statistically significant. The Onivyde combination also held tumors in check longer, a key secondary goal.
Ipsen reported reported 2021 sales of 127.4 million euros, or about $151 million, for Onivyde.