JPM23: Ipsen scoops up liver disease specialist Albireo for $952M

What’s the best way to optimize the buzz for your new acquisition? Announce it at the kickoff of the annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference.

That’s the strategy Ipsen took on Monday, unveiling its buyout of rare disease specialist Albireo for $952 million. The 15-year-old AstraZeneca spinout is developing bile acid modulators to treat a variety of liver diseases.

Albireo’s Bylvay won approvals in Europe and the United States four days apart in July of 2021 for pruritus in progressive familial intrahepatic cholestasis (PFIC). In October of last year, Albireo presented data that showed Bylvay is similarly effective against another pediatric liver disease—Alagille syndrome.

Ipsen’s tender offer is for $42 per share plus a contingent value right of $10 per share tied to the potential approval of Bylvay in biliary atresia (BA), the most common of three main pediatric liver diseases.

Albireo has begun a phase 3 trial in BA that is scheduled to read out in 2024. Securing approvals in all three indications would give Bylvay blockbuster potential, Albireo CEO Ron Cooper told Fierce Pharma three months ago.

With news of the deal, Albireo's stock price jumped 85%. Friday, the company's share price closed at around $23.

The timing of the announcement is familiar, as noted on Twitter by Pearl Freier, founder of Cambridge BioPartners. In 2019, Bristol Myers Squibb revealed its $74 billion acquisition of Celgene on the Thursday before the start of the JPM event.

On the first day of the conference, also in 2019, Eli Lilly unveiled its $8 billion buyout of Loxo Oncology. Last year, Pfizer did the same with its $1.3 billion purchase of Beam Therapeutics.

And Ipsen’s wasn’t the only revelation heading into this year’s event. Sunday, Chiesi Farmaceutici of Italy divulged its acquisition of Amryt Pharma. And Monday, AstraZeneca unveiled a deal to obtain CinCor Pharma, while Lilly and TRexBio revealed a collaboration and licensing agreement.

As for Boston-based Albireo, the company has secured orphan drug designations for Bylay in all three pediatric liver diseases in the US and EU.

Albireo’s competition in the iBAT drug class is Mirum Pharmaceuticals, which won approval for Livmarli to treat Alagille syndrome in 2021 and is wrapping up a phase 3 study in PFIC. While Livmarli sales came in at $18.8 million in the third quarter of last year, Bylvay’s were at $7.5 million.

Albireo also brings a clinical-stage asset in development for liver disease in adults. A-3907 is the world’s first oral systemic apical sodium-dependent bile acid transporter candidate.