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.”

Health­care Dis­par­i­ties and Sick­le Cell Dis­ease

In the complicated U.S. healthcare system, navigating a serious illness such as cancer or heart disease can be remarkably challenging for patients and caregivers. When that illness is classified as a rare disease, those challenges can become even more acute. And when that rare disease occurs in a population that experiences health disparities, such as people with sickle cell disease (SCD) who are primarily Black and Latino, challenges can become almost insurmountable.

Jacob Van Naarden (Eli Lilly)

Ex­clu­sives: Eli Lil­ly out to crash the megablock­buster PD-(L)1 par­ty with 'dis­rup­tive' pric­ing; re­veals can­cer biotech buy­out

It’s taken 7 years, but Eli Lilly is promising to finally start hammering the small and affluent PD-(L)1 club with a “disruptive” pricing strategy for their checkpoint therapy allied with China’s Innovent.

Lilly in-licensed global rights to sintilimab a year ago, building on the China alliance they have with Innovent. That cost the pharma giant $200 million in cash upfront, which they plan to capitalize on now with a long-awaited plan to bust up the high-price market in lung cancer and other cancers that have created a market worth tens of billions of dollars.

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The End­points 11: They've got mad mon­ey and huge am­bi­tions. It's time to go big or go home

These days, selecting a group of private biotechs for the Endpoints 11 spotlight begins with a sprint to get ahead of IPOs and the M&A teams at Big Pharma. I’ve had a couple of face plants earlier this year, watching some of the biotechs on my short list choose a quick leap onto Nasdaq or into the arms of a buyer.

Vividion, you would have been a great pick for the Endpoints 11. I’m sorry I missed you.

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Dave Lennon, former president of Novartis Gene Therapies

So what hap­pened with No­var­tis Gene Ther­a­pies? Here's your an­swer

Over the last couple of days it’s become clear that the gene therapy division at Novartis has quietly undergone a major reorganization. We learned on Monday that Dave Lennon, who had pursued a high-profile role as president of the unit with 1,500 people, had left the pharma giant to take over as CEO of a startup.

Like a lot of the majors, Novartis is an open highway for head hunters, or anyone looking to staff a startup. So that was news but not completely unexpected.

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FDA+ roundup: Bs­U­FA III ready for show­time, court tells FDA to re-work com­pound­ing plan, new guid­ance up­dates and more

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This latest deal includes several sweeteners for the biosimilar industry, which has yet to make great strides in the US market, with shorter review timelines for safety labeling updates and updates to add or remove an indication that does not contain efficacy data.

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Who are the women su­per­charg­ing bio­phar­ma R&D? Nom­i­nate them for this year's spe­cial re­port

The biotech industry has faced repeated calls to diversify its workforce — and in the last year, those calls got a lot louder. Though women account for just under half of all biotech employees around the world, they occupy very few places in C-suites, and even fewer make it to the helm.

Some companies are listening, according to a recent BIO survey which showed that this year’s companies were 2.5 times more likely to have a diversity and inclusion program compared to last year’s sample. But we still have a long way to go. Women represent just 31% of biotech executives, BIO reported. And those numbers are even more stark for women of color.

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Hexa­gon Bio rais­es $61M to con­tin­ue ef­forts to turn fun­gi in­to drugs

A year after raising a $47 million launch round, the fungi-loving drug hunters at Hexagon Bio have more than doubled their coffers.

Hexagon announced today that it raised another $61 million for its efforts to design cancer and infectious disease drugs based on insights mined from the DNA in millions of species of fungi. The new financing brings Hexagon’s committed funding to over $108 million.

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With world still in sore need of dos­es, Clover says its Covid-19 vac­cine is 67% ef­fec­tive in Phase III

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Jean Bennett (Brent N. Clarke/Invision/AP Images)

Lux­tur­na in­ven­tor Jean Ben­nett starts a new gene ther­a­py com­pa­ny to tack­le rare dis­eases left be­hind by phar­ma, VCs

A few years ago Jean Bennett found herself in a surprising place for a woman who invented the first gene therapy ever approved in the United States: No one, it seemed, wanted her work.

Bennett, who designed and co-developed Luxturna, approved in 2018 for a rare form of blindness, had kept building new gene therapies for eye diseases at her University of Pennsylvania lab. But although the results in animals looked promising, pharma companies and investors kept turning down the pedigreed ophthalmology professor.

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