Priorities change over time for drugmakers, as evidenced today by Bristol-Myers Squibb. The company announced two separate deals for experimental drugs that no longer fit its strategy—both of which were remnants of old acquisitions and a past plan to zero in on genetic diseases.
In one deal, Bristol (NYSE: BMY) has sent Biogen (NASDAQ:BIIB), of Cambridge, MA, an experimental drug (BMS-986168) for a neurological disease called progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP). Bristol gets $300 million up front from Biogen in this deal, with another $410 million in possible future payments if the drug progresses.
PSP is a devastating, rare neurodegenerative disease that causes problems walking and thinking and leads to other significant health problems, like pneumonia. There are no effective treatments. This attracted Bristol, which acquired the drug when it bought South San Francisco-based iPierian for $175 million up front in 2014. Bristol’s R&D chief Francis Cuss noted in a statement at the time the company was zeroing in on “genetically defined diseases” where patients had limited options.
IPierian’s drug is designed to stop a form of the protein Tau called “eTau” from spreading from neuron to neuron in the brain. In acquiring the PSP drug, Biogen is also now on the hook for any remaining payments due to the stockholders of iPierian, which include Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, MPM Capital, GV (formerly known as Google Ventures), and SR One. Bristol’s latest annual report, filed in February, shows the company owed another $554 million in contingent payments tied to the iPierian deal. Biogen will start Phase 2 trials in PSP and Alzheimer’s disease shortly. (Prior to the acquisition, meanwhile, iPierian split itself in two—the rest of the company became True North Therapeutics, which remains independent.)
Another drug Bristol was developing under its genetic disease plan was a therapy acquired in a 2007 buyout of Adnexus Therapeutics. Bristol paid $415 million for Adnexus, of Waltham, MA,, a company that had been developing biologic drugs derived from the protein fibronectin. One experimental drug to come from that work was BMS-986089, a drug for Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a progressive muscle disease that puts patients in wheelchairs by their teens and often kills them at a young age from heart and lung complications.
Swiss pharma giant Roche is buying BMS-986089, a drug that blocks myostatin, a protein implicated in muscle growth, for $170 million up front. BMS-986089 also recently began mid-stage testing, according to clinicaltrials.gov, and Bristol is one of several companies—among them Pfizer, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, and Novartis—developing myostatin-blocking drugs to treat Duchenne and other diseases. Bristol could get another $205 million in downstream payments and royalties if the drug ever reaches the market.
Combined, the PSP and Duchenne drugs were the only two in Bristol’s pipeline targeting genetic diseases. The drugmaker is now far more focused on cancer, where it is one of the leaders in immunotherapy, and immunology, where it has been building up a pipeline of drugs targeting fibrosis and the liver disease nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, among other disorders. Bristol’s most recent buyouts, among them Padlock Therapeutics, Flexus Biosciences, Nitto Denko, and Cormorant Pharmaceuticals, all fit within these areas.
“Licensing these assets to Biogen and Roche will enable Bristol-Myers Squibb to prioritize the other promising opportunities for asset development that have advanced across our diversified portfolio,” said Mike Burgess, Bristol’s head of cardiovascular, fibrosis and immunoscience.