Bristol Myers vets tie up another all-stock deal, lining up clinical-stage oncology pipeline
A handful of Bristol Myers Squibb vets setting up a fledgling cancer drug developer have wrapped back-to-back stock deals to create a new oncology pipeline.
Portage Biotech is helmed by CEO Ian Walters and CSO Robert Kramer, and backed by three biotech entrepreneurs — UK investor Jim Mellon, ex-Biohaven board member Declan Doogan and early Medivation backer Greg Bailey — who have whipped up a whole slate of different ventures aimed at drug development.
In this case, they initially created the company through a reverse merger involving an oil and gas shell traded on the Canadian market.
After making a seed investment in Biohaven, the trio backed Walters, who was looking to set up a pipeline of I/O drugs. They flipped the company to Nasdaq, says Walters, doing a 100-to-1 reverse split to get the stock up out of penny stock territory, and brought some oncology assets into the shell.
Now they’re using the stock to do deals.
A few days ago they engineered a $21 million all-stock deal to acquire Tarus Therapeutics and its set of adenosine receptor antagonists, including two in Phase I/II studies.
Today, they’re going back to wrap up some oncology assets from Oxford spinout iOx Therapeutics, which they worked with for a year before initially buying up a majority interest in the company for $2 million. And the work has a solid science pedigree, emerging from work involving the late professor Vincenzo Cerundolo and teams at Ludwig Cancer Research and the University of Oxford.
The dealmakers at Portage are now going back to tie up complete ownership, paying out about $9 million in shares for the remaining interest in their small molecule iNKT agonists. And that covers programs in clinical trials in melanoma and non-small cell lung cancer (PORT-2) and NY-ESO-1-positive solid tumors (PORT-3).
The deal also includes $25 million in shares or cash for a lineup of milestones.
Altogether, says Walters, they’re shooting to prove now that the drugs can trigger both “innate and adaptive immune response while correcting the suppressive tumor microenvironment.”
In an interview, Walters says the I/O field has devolved into rounds of checkpoints followed by more checkpoints, cytokines and more cytokines. “That’s great but we really need to push the field forward and there are a lot of other cells in the immune system,” he adds. “So we focused a lot on other cells, like iNKTs and some of these other cell types.”