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BMS in $1.5 billion immuno-oncology expansion

Published on 24/02/15 at 08:47am
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Bristol-Myers Squibb has confirmed two major deals to enhance the company’s standing in the immuno-oncology field.

The first agreement sees BMS purchase California-based biotech Flexus in a $1.25 billion deal to acquire the company and full rights to F001287, Flexus’ lead pre-clinical anti-cancer compound. In addition, BMS will also acquire Flexus’ IDO/TDO discovery programme.

The programme will focus on research into IDO and TDO; enzymes expressed by many tumour that suppress the function of the immune system and prevent it from recognising and destroying certain types of tumours.

IDO/TDO inhibitors work against cancer by enabling the immune system to attack tumours more effectively, and so hold promise as new anti-cancer treatments for use in combination with other immunotherapies.

BMS of course is already active in the immunotherapy field, having gained FDA approval in December for its immuno-oncology therapy Opdivo (nivolumab), a new treatment for patients with unresectable (cannot be removed by surgery) or metastatic (advanced) melanoma who no longer respond to other drugs.

In January BMS stopped a PHASE III trial of Opdivo in people with non-small cell lung cancer early after the treatment, which belongs to a new class of cancer drugs called PD-1 inhibitors that help the body’s own immune system recognise and kill cancerous cells, showed promising results.

The second deal will see BMS partner with Rigel Pharmaceuticals, a clinical-stage drug development company that discovers and develops novel, small-molecule drugs for the treatment of inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, immuno-oncology related diseases, and muscle disorders.

BMS could pay up to $309 million to acquire worldwide rights to develop and commercialise Rigel’s portfolio of TGF-beta receptor kinase inhibitors, which include anti-cancer and other treatments. In a statement BMS says the collaboration will focus on developing therapeutics that can be used either as monotherapy or in combination with Opdivo and blockbuster BMS immunotherapy drug, Yervoy (ipilimumab).

Francis Cuss, Bristol-Myers Squibb executive vice president and chief scientific officer, says: “Our acquisition of Flexus will expand our innovative pipeline with an important approach to enhancing immune responses in cancer. With the addition of a potentially best-in-class IDO1 inhibitor and the broad IDO/TDO programs, Bristol-Myers Squibb will accelerate its ability to explore numerous immunotherapeutic approaches across tumour types.”

Of the Rigel deal, Carl Decicco who is head of discovery, R&D says: “As a company dedicated to leading scientific advances in immuno-oncology, we are committed to exploring the utility of TGF beta inhibition as a potential therapeutic to fight certain cancers. Working with Rigel and having access to their TGF beta receptor kinase inhibitors extends our existing portfolio of immunotherapeutic approaches.”

Lilian Anekwe

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