Bris­tol-My­ers beefs up big can­cer drug pipeline, buy­ing IFM drugs in $2.3B-plus deal

Gary Glick, cred­it: Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan

At­las Ven­ture has an­oth­er block­buster biotech flip to boast about — while keep­ing an up­start in the port­fo­lio. And it’s a big one.

Just a lit­tle more than a year af­ter the At­las-in­cu­bat­ed IFM Ther­a­peu­tics achieved liftoff with a $27 mil­lion A round, with a co-lead in­vest­ment from Abing­worth, Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb has stepped in with a buy­out. Bris­tol-My­ers re­searchers are now carv­ing out the work the biotech has done on two pro­grams pro­mot­ing an in­nate im­mune re­sponse to can­cer, and spin­ning out the sig­nif­i­cant re­main­der in­to a new com­pa­ny al­so helmed by IFM co-founder Gary Glick.

To com­plete the deal, Bris­tol-My­ers is pay­ing a whop­ping $300 mil­lion up­front, with a lit­tle more than $1 bil­lion in mile­stones on each of the pre­clin­i­cal pro­grams. And there’s an un­spec­i­fied pay­ment due to se­cure an op­tion on one of its in­nate im­mune sys­tem pro­grams that al­so caught the bio­phar­ma’s eye as well as more biobucks for any oth­er drugs the are de­vel­oped out of the tech­nol­o­gy.

IFM was aimed at a prime tar­get when it jumped in­to view last sum­mer. The two lead can­cer projects look to use small mol­e­cules to ac­ti­vate NL­RP3 and STING, revving up in­nate im­mune re­spons­es that can play a com­ple­men­tary role with adap­tive im­mune ther­a­pies, like Bris­tol-My­ers’ big PD-1 drug Op­di­vo, which thwart a mech­a­nism can­cer cells use to evade an at­tack by im­mune sys­tem T cells. In­nate im­mu­ni­ty at­tacks as an im­me­di­ate guard — or first line of de­fense — against an in­vad­ing pathogen, and among oth­er things can re­cruit cells to the fight.

The biotech now will go on to con­cen­trate on the flip side of that coin: Rein­ing back in­nate im­mune at­tacks, tamp­ing down cy­tokine pro­duc­tion and re­duce chron­ic in­flam­ma­tion tied to au­to-in­flam­ma­to­ry con­di­tions like NASH, IBD and gout. And that work in­cludes NL­RP3 and some re­lat­ed mem­bers of the NLR fam­i­ly.

It’s that NL­RP3 an­tag­o­nist that Bris­tol-My­ers wants an op­tion on.

Thomas Lynch

Bris­tol-My­ers is pay­ing more than 10 times the A-round in cash for this com­pa­ny, which will not go un­no­ticed in At­las cir­cles to­day. At­las part­ner Jean-François Formela was chair­man of the com­pa­ny.

For Bris­tol-My­ers, which is look­ing to reignite its once-dom­i­nant check­point ef­fort, it rep­re­sents an­oth­er op­por­tu­ni­ty to steal a march against a slew of ri­vals all look­ing to sec­ond- and third-gen­er­a­tion tie-ups as they an­gle to keep and grow a ma­jor seg­ment of the mar­ket. Its busi­ness de­vel­op­ment group un­der Paul Bion­di has a cold and steady eye when it comes to tech deals, look­ing for ways to gain an ad­van­tage in core fields through this kind of ex­ter­nal ac­qui­si­tion.

“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 tu­mors,” said Thomas Lynch, ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent, chief sci­en­tif­ic of­fi­cer, 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.”

5AM Ven­tures: Fu­el­ing the Next Gen­er­a­tion of In­no­va­tors

By RBC Capital Markets
With Andy Schwab, Co-Founder and Managing Partner at 5AM Ventures

Key Points

Prescription Digital Therapeutics, cell therapy technologies, and in silico medicines will be a vital part of future treatment modalities.
Unlocking the potential of the microbiome could be the missing link to better disease diagnosis.
Growing links between academia, industry, and venture capital are spinning out more innovative biotech companies.
Biotech is now seen by investors as a growth space as well as a safe haven, fuelling the recent IPO boom.

Hal Barron, GSK via YouTube

What does $29B buy you in Big Phar­ma? In Glax­o­SmithK­line’s case, a whole lot of un­com­fort­able ques­tions about the pipeline

Talk about your bad timing.

A little over a week ago, GSK R&D chief Hal Barron marked his third anniversary at the research helm by taking a turn at the virtual podium during JP Morgan to make the case that he and his team had built a valuable late-stage pipeline capable of churning out more than 10 blockbusters in the next 5 years.

And then, just days later, one of the cancer drugs he bet big on as a top prospect — bintrafusp, partnered with Merck KGaA — failed its first pivotal test in non-small cell lung cancer.

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Eli Lil­ly's an­ti­body cuts risk of Covid-19 by up to 80% among the most vul­ner­a­ble — but will it have a place next to vac­cines?

Eli Lilly says bamlanivimab lowered the risk of contracting symptomatic Covid-19 in a first-of-its-kind trial involving nursing home residents and staff, paving the way for a new option to protect against the virus.

But how big of an impact it might have, and what role it will play, at a time vaccines are being rolled out to the exact population it is targeting still remains unclear.

Among 965 participants in the study — all of whom tested negative for the coronavirus at baseline — the number of symptomatic cases reported in the bamlanivimab arm was 57% lower than that in the placebo arm (odds ratio 0.43, p=0.00021). In addition to that primary endpoint, all secondary endpoints reached statistical significance.

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Janet Woodcock (AP Images)

End­points poll: Janet Wood­cock takes the (in­ter­im) helm at the FDA. And a large ma­jor­i­ty of our read­ers want her to stay there

It’s official: Janet Woodcock is now the acting chief of the FDA.

And — according to an Endpoints poll — most industry readers would like her to stay there, although a significant minority is strongly opposed.

To recap: Joe Biden is reportedly choosing between Woodcock and former deputy FDA commissioner Joshua Sharfstein as his nominee for the permanent position. Given their respective track records, the decision is set to determine the agency’s lodestar for years to come.

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What’s next for End­points — and how to sup­port our in­de­pen­dent bio­phar­ma news mis­sion

The firehose of biopharma news is gushing these days.

That’s why broader and deeper is the theme for 2021 at Endpoints. You can expect new coverage outside our core R&D focus, with deeper reporting in some key areas. When John Carroll and I launched Endpoints nearly five years ago, we were wading in waist-high waters. Now we’re a team of 25 full-time staffers (and growing) with plans to cover the flood of biopharma news, Endpoints-style.

Charlie Fuchs, Roche and Genentech global head of product development for oncology and hematology (Yale Cancer Center)

Yale can­cer spe­cial­ist Char­lie Fuchs tapped as new glob­al de­vel­op­ment chief for Roche/Genen­tech

Roche and their big sub Genentech have just recruited a top cancer specialist at Yale to head up global product development in oncology and hematology.

I just got word that the pharma giant, which leads one of the most active cancer research operations in the world, recruited Charlie Fuchs, director of the Yale Cancer Center and physician-in-chief of Smilow Cancer Hospital. He’ll join the global operation March 1 and will be based in South San Francisco, where Genentech is based.

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Jonathan Weissman (MIT)

Can a new CRISPR tech­nique un­lock the se­crets of how can­cer spreads?

Jonathan Weissman’s team watched the cancer cells spread across the doomed mouse. Engineered with a bioluminescent enzyme, they appeared in scans first as a small navy blue diamond lodged near the heart; a week later, as a triangle splayed across the mouse’s upper body, with streaks of green and two distinct bright red hubs of activity. By day 54, the mouse resembled a lava lamp.

The images would have been familiar to any cancer biologist, but they didn’t actually tell you much about what was going on: why the cancer was metastasizing or which cells were responsible. For that, Weissman’s team had designed a new tool. Inside the original navy blue diamond, they had engineered the microbiological equivalent of an airplane’s black box — a “molecular recorder” that, after the mouse’s death, could allow them to extract the cells and wind back intimate footage of a single cancer’s ascent.

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Michelle McMurry-Heath, BIO CEO (BIO via YouTube)

BIO looks to re­struc­ture, lay­ing off staff amid chal­lenge to the trade org's nor­mal face-to-face style

The biopharma industry, on the whole, had a red-letter year in 2020 amid Covid-19, with fundraising at an all-time high and major players speeding vaccines ahead to approval. But for BIO, the industry’s leading trade organization, the pandemic has prompted a reconsideration of the game plan.

BIO will pivot to digital as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to rage, making “some staff reductions” as it looks to bring its roughly 37,000 in-person meetings each year to the web, the organization said Thursday.

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Glax­o­SmithK­line scraps a LAG3 study, mark­ing an­oth­er fail­ure for the pipeline af­ter a crit­i­cal set­back

Another gap has appeared in GlaxoSmithKline’s pipeline.

Friday morning the Australian biotech Immutep put out word that Hal Barron’s R&D group at GSK had decided to scrap a Phase II proof-of-concept study in ulcerative colitis for their anti-LAG3 therapy GSK2831781. According to the biotech, the program didn’t survive an interim review.

The trial was stopped by GSK based on the assessment of clinical data as part of a planned interim analysis conducted in consultation with the trial’s Data Review Committee. GSK is conducting further reporting, assessment and analyses of the efficacy and safety data and evaluating the biology to determine next steps for the GSK2831781 development program.

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