Drug Development

J&J joins the combo lineup at Bristol-Myers, where a new wagon master runs oncology R&D

J&J is taking an immuno-oncology drug licensed in from Aduro and matching it with Bristol-Myers Squibb’s pioneering checkpoint drug Opdivo in the latest example of the tsunami of I/O combo studies taking shape off the coast of the global R&D industry. The move comes one day after Bristol-Myers $BMY tapped a veteran player to take the head of its rapidly growing oncology development operations.

J&J’s drug is JNJ-64041757 (formerly ADU-214), which it in-licensed from Aduro BioTech $ADRO in an $817 million deal back in 2014. That deal included a $30 million upfront.

J&J $JNJ—a major player which has struck a string of prominent cancer deals in the past few years—was drawn to the therapeutic because of its use of engineered Live Attenuated Double-Deleted (LADD) Listeria monocytogenes to spur an immune response against tumors. LADD is used to induce presentation of an antigen. And the new partners are tackling non-small cell lung cancer in an early-stage study, probably designed for a quick ramp-up into a pivotal trial if they get the desired results.

Aduro used the same LADD tech to design its top drug, CRS-207.

Fouad Namouni

Fouad Namouni, Oncology Development Head at Bristol-Myers Squibb

Yesterday, Bristol-Myers also noted a key change in senior R&D execs. Michael Giordano, a 17-year veteran at Bristol-Myers, has now “retired,” and Fouad Namouni has taken over oncology development, with responsibility covering everything from early stage development through to commercialization.

It’s a plum post. Bristol-Myers has reshaped its R&D effort in recent years to position the company as a major player in the lucrative oncology field. Company execs positioned Opdivo as the lead checkpoint drug on the market, and they’ve been pouring resources into the division.

The expansion includes a long lineup of these combo studies.

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