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Bristol-Myers Wrangles Top Academics to Study Immunity in Cancer

On May 29, New York-based drug giant Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMY) announced a major international cancer-research initiative—news that got a bit overshadowed by the biggest cancer conference of the year, which started in Chicago just a few days later. But the new group that the company unveiled that day, called the International Immuno-Oncology Network, is worth a second look, as it’s part of a growing trend in the pharmaceutical industry to tap into the expertise of academic scientists, and use it to speed the translation of scientific discoveries into usable drugs.

The network, called II-ON for short, consists of Bristol-Myers and ten academic institutions in the U.S., Spain, France, Italy, the U.K., and the Netherlands. Among the participants are Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, and Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center in Baltimore. All of the projects undertaken by II-ON will center around immuno-oncology, which which focuses on mobilizing the immune system’s intrinsic ability to fight cancer.

The field of immuno-oncology is of great interest to Bristol-Myers, which sells one of the leading drugs in the class, ipilumumab (Yervoy) for melanoma. The product, which was approved last March, works by blocking the activity of an immune-suppressing molecule. It brought in $154 million in sales in the first quarter of this year, making it one of the company’s best sellers.

Bristol-Myers intends to tap into the new group to develop research projects in immuno-oncology. “Information will be exchanged at multiple levels—between BMS and its partner institutions and between the institutions,” says a spokeswoman for the company in an e-mail.

Memorial Sloan-Kettering physician Jedd Wolchok—who is a specialist in immuno-oncology and one of the participants in Bristol-Myers’ new network—says he believes the initiative will be valuable both for the company and the academics. “We will be studying samples from … Next Page »

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