Jazz hands Zymeworks a much-needed win for biliary tract cancer drug after peek at data

Zymeworks executives didn’t want to speak for Jazz Pharmaceuticals about the strength of data from a midstage readout for biliary tract cancer drug zanidatamab earlier this week. But it didn’t take long for Jazz to speak up loud and clear: We’re in.

Jazz will indeed opt in on the HER2-directed bispecific antibody in key markets such as the U.S., Europe and Japan. The two companies had a right-of-first-refusal deal for zanidatamab, worth $50 million upfront for Zymeworks then $325 million down the line if Jazz opts in. A further $525 million in milestones tied to regulatory events, $862.5 million in commercial payments and tiered royalties are also on the line. The deal was signed in October.

With Jazz giving the nod, Zymeworks now gets that $325 million this quarter. The total value of the deal could be $1.76 billion if all the various milestones and payments work out for Zymeworks, Jazz said in a Wednesday press release.

Jazz was inspired to say yes after taking a look at a phase 2b top-line readout showing zanidatamab led to an objective response rate of 41.3% and a median duration of response of 12.9 months in patients who have previously treated HER2-amplified and expressing biliary tract cancers.

“This important milestone strengthens our confidence in advancing this therapy for cancer patients with significant unmet need,” said Rob Iannone, M.D., executive vice president and global head of research and development for Jazz. “While our initial focus will be on the ongoing clinical programs in BTC and [gastroesophageal adenocarcinoma], these data add to the growing body of evidence that zanidatamab has anti-tumor activity across multiple HER2-expressing cancers."

The trial results sent Zymeworks’ shares flying high to $8.23 on Monday, but the news that Jazz would opt in didn’t move the needle Wednesday morning, with shares sitting at $7.05 apiece.

Zymeworks needed this win after a tough year that included a new CEO, layoffs and a shareholder battle over the future of the company.