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Bristol-Myers Squibb’s $2.3 billion gamble to boost cancer pipeline

Published on 04/08/17 at 10:29am

Bristol-Myers Squibb has agreed a deal to acquire IFM Therapeutics for a potential $2.3 billion. The latter is a biotech that only last year completed its series A funding, gaining $27 million to back its venture in the process. Now, it sits comfortably on a $300 million war-chest, as BMS pays this amount down immediately as part of the deal.

Why is BMS prepared to pay so much for a fledgling biotech? Principally for its two preclinical programs that could provide immunotherapy treatment, Opdivo, with a significant boost.

IFM two candidates both stimulate the innate immune system but in different ways. The innate immune system is the body’s first response to invasive or damaging antigens entering the system. The hope that BMS has is that the STING (stimulator of interferon genes) and NLRP3 agonist programs, developed by IFM, could help stimulate the body’s reaction against, for example, cancer and thereby bring the adaptive immune system into play.

Both of these compounds could then hold a serious benefit when used in conjunction with Opdivo, potentially gaining BMS an advantage over competitors. It has slowly seen its lead over other competitors in the PD-1/PD-L1 area erode over the last year, with MSD’s Keytruda making a serious impact and Roche’s Tecentriq nabbing itself indication.

All immunotherapies in this area, however, have recently been hit with failures in clinical trials that could point towards the limits of their efficacy as sole treatments. Now, BMS is gambling on these two programs by tying $1 billion in milestones to the development of both.

“Targeting innate immunity pathways represents a potentially differentiated approach in immuno-oncology designed to initiate and augment immune responses that may help the body’s natural defenses better recognize and attack tumours,” said Thomas Lynch, Jr, Executive Vice President, CSO, Bristol-Myers Squibb. “The addition of STING and NLRP3 agonist programs broadens our ability to investigate additional pathways across the immune system and complements our immuno-oncology portfolio. We look forward to advancing the development of these important programs initiated by Gary Glick, his leadership team and leading academic and industry experts across immunology and oncology.”

For IFM, it represents a massive success to have capitalised so early on the potential of its programs. The company will spin-out to continue operations as IFM Therapeutics LLC, retaining the same personnel and facilities. The deal is expected to close during the third quarter of 2017.

Ben Hargreaves

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