French pharma group Ipsen sees more asset purchases, U.S. growth

PARIS (Reuters) - French pharma company Ipsen expects to bring more drugs to combat cancer, rare diseases and mobility impairment into its pipeline this year and has around one billion euros ($1.25 billion) for asset purchases, its chief executive said.

The drugmaker, which reported strong full-year results on Thursday, also expects that its growth in the United States, the world’s largest health market, will accelerate further in 2018.

Ipsen’s shares were up 10.03 percent at 1205 GMT, among top performers on the STOXX 600 index.

Ipsen Chief Executive David Meek told Reuters the company would continue to buy in new drugs which it could then take through its research and development channels and to the market.

“We want to bring in early, mid stage assets, to build our pipeline in oncology, rare diseases and neurosciences. It is a strategic imperative for us and, clearly, we are very active on the business development front.”

Meek, an American, took over as CEO in July 2016. The company bought assets from U.S. Merrimack Pharmaceuticals in January last year, including metastatic pancreatic cancer drug Onivyde for $575 million in cash.

That followed a deal with Exelixis to have access to its renal cell cancer treatment Cabometyx.

Meek said Ipsen was now in the top 20 oncology companies worldwide - ranking at 18 by sales in 2016 - and there was room for improvement.

“I am not saying we will be in the top ten anytime soon but I certainly want to be the fastest growing of the top 20,” he said, adding Ipsen oncology sales were up 32.4 percent at constant exchange rates last year to top 1 billion euros.

Revenue in North America was up 74.5 percent, driven by continued growth of neuroendocrine tumors treatment Somatuline.

“North America is 25 percent of our business and most of that is the U.S., our largest single market at this time, and our fastest growing. We expect continued acceleration of our growth in the U.S.,” Meek said.

The executive said Ipsen would benefit from a cut in U.S. corporate tax but that he would also closely track budget issues that could potentially have an effect on government health insurance programs for the poor and disabled such as Medicaid and Medicare for the elderly.

“There are risks and opportunities. We are following the congressional budget debate very closely.”

Editing by Luke Baker and Alexandra Hudson