UPDATED: Robert Bazemore inks one last deal for Epizyme — adding China to Tazverik's global blueprint — before heading out from CEO office
Among the early pioneers of China biotech, Hutchmed (then Chi-Med) stood out for a reason: It largely stayed out of in-licensing drugs from Western drugmakers, choosing instead to hunker down on developing its own compounds — notching big partners in AstraZeneca and Eli Lilly for savolitinib and fruquintinib, both on the market now, along the way.
As its peers begin heralding in-house discovery to complement the externally-sourced parts of the pipeline, though, Hutchmed is once again going in the opposite direction.
Hutchmed is teaming up with Epizyme — which will be undergoing some changes at the top — to develop Tazverik, the US biotech’s methyltransferase inhibitor of EZH2, paying $25 million upfront to take the lead for development and commercialization in China.
Approved in the US for certain subtypes of epithelioid sarcoma and follicular lymphoma, Tazverik works through an epigenetic mechanism — controlling the expression of certain genes — and was designed for niche, unreached corners of the vast cancer space. Hutchmed and Epizyme are eyeing as many as eight potential indications in China; if they all go well, development and regulatory milestones will add up to $110 million.
Another $175 million is reserved for sales milestones.
Epizyme CEO Robert Bazemore called Hutchmed an “ideal partner” to devise and execute new clinical trials in China that will then feed into its bigger plans.
“Through this collaboration we anticipate Tazverik to become the first EZH2 inhibitor brought to market in Greater China,” he said in a statement, “and we believe the involvement of Hutchmed in the global development of Tazverik can allow for a more rapid, resource-efficient, and geographically inclusive development plan for the U.S. confirmatory EZH-302 trial of Tazverik in second line follicular lymphoma (2L FL) in combination with Revlimid plus rituximab (‘R²’).”
He won’t be the one overseeing that plan, though. Hours after announcing the deal, Epizyme revealed that Bazemore is stepping down. After steering Tazverik to two US approvals, completing the next five-year growth strategy and now engineering a major deal, he believes it’s time for Grant Bogle, a board director and former exec of Tesaro, to take the lead at an increasingly commercially oriented company while Bazemore can “redirect his time and energy toward other areas of his life that have become a priority for him, personally.”
Meanwhile, Christian Hogg, Hutchmed’s chief executive, pointed to the potential for combination therapy with the cancer drugs in its portfolio.
Hutchmed’s pricing strategy for Tazverik will also serve as an interesting indicator of China’s openness to expensive rare disease drugs — considering its price tag of $186,000. Drugmakers typically have to discount their way into the National Reimbursement Drug List, betting that they could earn more by tapping a much larger volume.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect Robert Bazemore’s upcoming departure.