Celgene recommits to Epizyme, adding $620M in cancer drug bonuses

Epizyme CFO Andrew Singer

Three years after stepping up with a $250 million deal--with $90 million upfront--Celgene ($CELG) has remapped its partnership with Epizyme, extending their collaboration three more years. Under this new deal, Cambridge, MA-based Epizyme ($EPZM) gets $10 million cash with up to $610 million in milestones for three histone methyltransferase (HMT) inhibitor targets.

Epizyme remains in charge of development through Phase I, with up to $75 million up for grabs in development milestones, $365 million in regulatory milestones and $170 million for hitting sales goals. The biotech aloso stands to earn a royalty stream on any approved products. And while the deal extension gives Epizyme enough cash in the bank to march on through the first half of 2017, the biotech also signaled that it was cutting costs in order to beef up its work on another drug in the pipeline.

Celgene retains its rights to pinometostat (EPZ-5676), a HMT inhibitor targeting DOT1L. Pinometostat is in Phase I development for acute leukemia with alterations in the MLL gene. That drug earned Epizyme a $25 million payment for proof-of-concept data in early 2014.

Behind pinometostat comes tazemetostat, an in-house EZH2 inhibitor for non-Hodgkin lymphoma patients and patients with INI1-deficient solid tumors.

"We have increased investment in tazemetostat development, both as a single agent and in future studies in combination with other agents," said Epizyme CFO Andrew Singer. "This required reprioritizing our pipeline development plans and reducing operating costs."

"No layoffs have been included or are contemplated," Singer added in an e-mail to FierceBiotech. "We are controlling our costs across the board, with savings identified across G&A and research. Importantly we are reinvesting a portion of our savings into expanding the clinical development of our lead asset, tazemetostat."

Epizyme currently has 88 staffers.

For Celgene, the decision to continue its work with Epizyme marks one of many industry collaborations. CEO Bob Hugin and his deal chief, George Golumbeski, have been scouring the planet for partnerships, executing a frenzy of new deals highlighted just days ago when Celgene spent $1 billion to buy into Juno Therapeutics and its pipeline of reengineered T cell therapies for fighting cancer.

- here's the release