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INTERVIEW-Ipsen hunting for more deals as sets targets for 2022

Matthias Blamont

* Oncology, rare diseases, neuroscience to remain key areas

* Has more than 300 million euros for potential deals

* 2022 sales seen topping 3 billion euros

PARIS, May 14 (Reuters) - French drugmaker Ipsen is hunting for deals to add to its pipeline of experimental medicines both this year and beyond, its chief executive told Reuters.

The 90-year-old company, which holds an investor day on Tuesday, is targetting sales of around 3.2 billion euros ($3.6 billion) in 2022 and an operating margin above 32 percent.

That compares with 2018 revenue of 2.22 billion euros, which was up more than 20 percent from 2017 at constant exchange rates, and an operating margin just shy of 30 percent.

"We are going to continue our external innovation strategy. We are very aggressive today as we want to bring in new assets to the organisation," David Meek told Reuters in an interview.

Under Meek, an American who took over as CEO in July 2016, Ipsen has become more international, with an increased focus on the United States, the world's biggest and most profitable drugs market.

The company has been looking to strengthen its portfolio to offset the long-term generic threat to its top-selling cancer treatment Somatuline.

Ipsen currently has five new chemical entities in clinical development and nine "significant" regulatory submissions planned for 2019-2022, Meek said.

Earlier this year, Ipsen agreed to buy Canadian biotech firm Clementia Pharmaceuticals in a deal worth up to $1.31 billion.

Clementia has a key product called palovarotene that treats bone disorders, and it hopes to get regulatory approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the medicine in 2020.

"We have the financial firepower to do more transactions this year," Meek said, citing oncology, rare diseases and neuroscience as the core therapeutic areas where the group remains keen to expand.

Although valuations in oncology have been high for some time, Meek said the group's size allowed it to look at drugs with peak annual sales potential of a few hundred million dollars that are not considered by bigger pharmaceutical firms.

Ipsen has more than 300 million euros for potential deals and that warchest is expected to top 1 billion euros by the end of 2020.

"It could be full-on asset acquisitions, licensing deals, partnerships, we can be opportunistic and we are open to the source of innovation," Meek said.

So far, the company has opted for a series of mid-sized deals rather than multibillion dollars transactions that attract greater scrutiny from investors and regulators.

In addition to a team of 30 that is searching for targets, Ipsen has teamed up with venture capital partners to help it source new assets.

"We have multiplied the number of eyes and ears," Meek said.

($1 = 0.8904 euros) (Reporting by Matthias Blamont; Editing by Mark Potter)

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