Drug Development

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.”


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