In latest cancer deal, Bristol Myers Squibb's new BD chief bets $65M in search for more targets like PARP
Elizabeth Mily, the new chief of the strategy and business development group at Bristol Myers Squibb, has struck her first high-profile collaboration since succeeding Paul Biondi. In putting down $65 million upfront, she’s also signaling where the pharma giant — with a newly-consolidated pipeline featuring a slate of oncology and hematology drugs from Celgene — is headed for the next wave of cancer therapies.
Synthetic lethality is the theme at Versant-backed Repare Therapeutics, which is getting $50 million in cash and $15 million in equity investment to discover new targets for Bristol. Its own clinical and near-clinical programs will remain independent, CEO Lloyd Segal said.
“This collaboration will help to ensure that our novel discoveries are being broadly prosecuted in the search for the next generation of precision oncology medicines,” he added.
The central idea is that while tumors can tolerate individual defects in DNA, simultaneous perturbation of more than one gene can lead to cancer cell death. PARP inhibitors are the most often cited example, as these drugs — like AstraZeneca’s Lynparza and GSK’s Zejula — work by hitting the enzyme that tumors with BRCA mutations rely on heavily to repair their DNA.
But that target is only “the tip of the iceberg,” Versant managing director Jerel Davis told Endpoints News in 2017.
Repare brings to the table a CRISPR-based platform that scours the genome for mutations that become lethal to cancer cells when they happen together. Researchers start with an identified “lesion,” or important mutations, such as BRCA. Then they screen for potential new targets by leveraging the DNA cutting powers of CRISPR.
The approach promises to be tumor-agnostic, finding targets that are present in a range of tumors — something the PARP pioneers have demonstrated with their foray into prostate cancer after an initial focus on breast and ovarian tumors.
Rupert Vessey, the ex-Celgene exec who’s now EVP of research and early development at Bristol, offered his thumbs up to the “distinctive” technology.
The pharma giant has exclusive rights to develop and commercialize therapies — most likely small molecules — that hit the targets found under the deal. Repare, which has offices in both Montreal and Boston, is eligible for up to $3 billion in license fees and other milestones.