Glimpse of promising lymphoma data spurs sharp spike in Epizyme shares

Epizyme's Peter Ho

Three months after retrieving rights to the lymphoma drug EPZ-6438 from Eisai in a $110 million deal, Epizyme has posted a positive glimpse at the drug's efficacy in a small, early-stage trial. And the news swiftly stoked the Cambridge, MA-based biotech's share price ($EPZM), which soared by 30% as investors pondered the possibilities.

Usually, when a biotech gets back rights to a drug, the partner is bailing out in despair. But Epizyme managed from the start to make the case that their buyback of EPZ-6438--now dubbed tazemetostat--was anything but a mark of despair. And over the weekend, investigators peeled back the covers on some updated data that help make that case.

As of June 8, investigators reported, 9 of 15 patients with non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) showed signs of responding to the drug, with two complete responses in the mix. Five of the 9 advanced cases involving diffuse large B-cell lymphoma demonstrated an objective response, with one complete response still being tracked at 18 months. Three of 5 patients with follicular lymphoma also recorded a response, including one patient with a complete response that was in the study after 13 months. And one other patient with marginal zone lymphoma also had a partial response.

As is typically the case in cancer drug R&D, these were very sick patients. Close to 9 out of 10 of the patients had already been treated with three or more other therapies before receiving tazemetostat.

The drug is designed to shut down the EZH2 enzyme and was developed based on observations that aberrant enzyme activity is linked with the dysregulation of genes that control cell proliferation.

"These results highlight the therapeutic potential of tazemetostat in NHL, with a number of patients achieving durable remissions with time on treatment at or beyond one year," said Dr. Peter Ho, the chief development officer at Epizyme. "We look forward to exploring further the clinical utility of tazemetostat in NHL in a robust Phase II development program."

- here's the release