BIO: Jazz is auditioning new bandmates in an M&A market ripe with talent

“It's a good time to be investing in and acquiring innovation,” Jazz Pharmaceuticals CEO Bruce Cozadd says, as the company scouts for deals at the BIO International Convention.

Cozadd is hunting for acquisitions in neurology and oncology, which would back up a portfolio that includes Epidiolex for seizures and Xywav for narcolepsy. The full neurology portfolio brought in $654 million in the first quarter of the year, according to a recent earnings report. Meanwhile, the oncology programs collected $228.9 million and is fresh off new data for HER2-targeting bispecific antibody zanidatamab, which is partnered with Zymeworks. 

“We’re looking at a variety of potential transactions,” Cozadd told Fierce Biotech on the sideline of the conference. “We don’t have to do a large deal, but we could do a large deal.” 

The candid acknowledgment of the company’s M&A strategy is emblematic of a scorching hot market that’s allowing smaller, well-financed biopharmas to move out of the seller position. Cozadd said Jazz would not have been a buyer a year ago, but now it's on the hunt. 

And it's not just straight M&A, either. At the end of 2022, Jazz opted in on a licensing deal with Zymeworks for zanidatamab that could ultimately see the company pay out up to $1.76 billion. It’s a milestone-heavy deal, with more than $1.3 billion in biobucks on the table, but included a second option fee for $325 million. 

So far, so good for the asset, which posted new phase 2 data at this year’s concurrent American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting showing a 41.3% confirmed objective response rate in HER2-amplified biliary tract cancers. A recent study in Cancers reported that the objective response rate of first-line treatment—AstraZeneca's Imfinzi combined with chemotherapy—is 8.7% to 26.7%. The company is also aiming zanidatamab at gastroesophageal adenocarcinoma and breast cancer. 

But Jazz is contending with a tough rival in this space, namely AstraZeneca’s Enhertu which has emerged as a dominant player in the HER2-targeting space. Cozadd was wary of describing Jazz as “taking on” Enhertu, rather that the company was adding another option to the treatment paradigm for patients, particularly those with breast cancer. These patients, "I'm happy to say, get many lines of therapy, meaning they live with the disease for a long time,” he said. “So there may be use for multiple agents across tumor types and across different lines of therapy.” 

Jazz’s return to M&A comes some two and a half years after the acquisition of GW Pharma for $7.2 billion, which tacked on a cannabinoid portfolio, namely Epidiolex. Revenue for the drug increased 20% to $188.9 million in the first quarter of 2023 compared to the first quarter of 2022. Cozadd said that deal required the company to borrow a considerable amount, taking on leverage that it’s since been able to shed. Jazz had $1.2 billion in cash on hand plus $500 million in untapped borrowing capacity as of the end of March. 

Jazz reported revenues of $892.8 million for the first quarter of the year, with net product sales increasing 49% compared to the same quarter a year before. The company is looking forward to three late-stage readouts by the end of 2024, including JZP150 in post-traumatic stress disorder and suvecaltamide in essential tremor in addition to zanidatamab.