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Cambridge biotech Agios will sell oncology business to Boston’s Servier for up to $2 billion

The seller aims to focus on new therapies for genetic diseases

Jackie Fouse is chief executive of Agios Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge.

Agios Pharmaceuticals Inc. has agreed to sell its oncology business to Boston’s Servier Pharmaceuticals in a deal worth up to $2 billion.

Agios, of Cambridge, which has two cancer drugs on the market and others in testing, said Monday that it has decided to focus on drugs it is developing for genetic diseases. That portfolio is anchored by a medicine that could potentially treat three types of anemias, or blood disorders: pyruvate kinase deficiency, thalassemia, and sickle cell disease. Agios hopes to seek regulatory approval for the drug, which is currently in large clinical trials, in the United States and Europe next year.

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Jackie Fouse, chief executive of Agios, called the deal a reset for “the new Agios.” She said discussions to part ways with the cancer operations began in late summer with about 18 companies.

“The cancer landscape has evolved over the last 12 years since we were founded,” she said. “We find that we can be more differentiated in genetically defined diseases than we can in cancer, and it is going to be a better use of our resources.”

In a call with investors Monday morning, Fouse said the deal will help the company return at least $1.2 billion to shareholders. The company’s shares closed at $42.62, up $9.41, or 28.3 percent.

Servier Pharmaceuticals, in Boston’s Seaport, serves as the American home base for its parent company, Servier Group, a nonprofit French pharmaceutical maker. When the subsidiary set up shop in Boston in 2019, it began developing the cancer drugs its parent company had acquired from Shire PLC — now owned by the Japanese drug giant Takeda — for $2.4 billion.

Under terms of the deal, expected to close in the second quarter of 2021, Agios would receive $1.8 billion in cash upfront and potentially additional payments of up to $200 million. Agios would also be eligible to receive royalty payments on two of its drugs for a period of time.

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Servier would acquire two approved cancer drugs and others in earlier clinical and research stages. In 2018, Agios won Food and Drug Administration approval for a medicine to treat acute myeloid leukemia, a type of blood cancer. A year earlier, the FDA had approved another Agios therapy for the disease..

Servier plant to absorb all of Agios’s employees who worked primarily in the oncology business. Fouse she is glad the Agios cancer portfolio — and its staff — will be “in the hands of a company that now has oncology as one of its top priorities.”

Servier on Monday also announced a partnership with Cambridge-based Celsius Therapeutics to work on treatments for colorectal cancer.

Still, Fouse said it was an emotional day for the tight-knit team in Cambridge, which has more than 500 employees but will soon lose about 200 to Servier.

“They see the opportunities ahead of us and the rationale behind the strategy,” she said. “At the same time, it is an emotional situation when you know some of your colleagues are going to go with the oncology assets to a different company.”

Fouse said Agios will soon hire workers to rebuild its commercial team and support research and clinical development.

The decision to no longer focus on cancer drugs comes nearly two years after a change in leadership at Agios. Fouse took over as chief executive in 2019 after having served on the board of directors since 2017. She succeeded David Schenkein, who has deep roots in oncology and had served as chief executive beginning in 2009.

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Anissa Gardizy can be reached at anissa.gardizy@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @anissagardizy8 and on Instagram @anissagardizy.journalism.