Amid BMS R&D shuffle, F-star nabs its immuno-oncology executive

Bristol-Myers Squibb
Bristol-Myers Squibb once had an option to buyout F-star but opted against it back in 2017. (Bristol-Myers Squibb)

Last week, Bristol-Myers Squibb announced it was changing up its R&D structure and personnel as it subsumes new buy Celgene, and one of its key executives has now jumped ship to a small British biotech.

Louis Kayitalire, recently vice president of immuno-oncology at BMS, now becomes chief medical officer at cancer biotech F-star.

Here, Kayitalire will oversee the clinical development of F-star’s lead product candidate, FS118, a LAG-3/PD-L1-targeting tetravalent bispecific antibody currently in a phase 1 testing.

He will also lead the clinical strategy and operations for F-star’s pipeline of immuno-oncology bispecific antibody therapeutics, including FS120 and FS222, two earlier-stage candidates.

Kayitalire, who also served as vice president of Celgene for three years, has been at BMS since 2016 but exits as the pharma company looks to expand its reach with the buyout of Celgene beyond the confines of its I-O cancer therapy Opdivo, which has been losing out to rival Merck for some years now.

This comes amid a big shuffle, with Bristol-Myers’ Chief Scientific Officer Tom Lynch, who has been involved in the areas covered by research and early development for two years, is also set to leave the biopharma by the start of October to “pursue opportunities in healthcare.”

The change-up also saw Bristol dividing the BMS-Celgene group up into early- and late-phase development, handing Celgene’s Rupert Vessey responsibility for the former and hiring Novartis’ Samit Hirawat to run the latter.

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Kayitalire said: “This is an exciting time for me to join F-star as the company pivots to a wholly-owned portfolio strategy and accelerates the clinical development of its pipeline. As we saw at the recent ASCO meeting, bispecific antibodies are leading a paradigm shift in cancer care and the potential to improve the outcome for cancer patients has never been greater. I believe F-star is ideally positioned to become the next leader in this field.”

This adds to the new executives coming into F-star, with Eliot Forster, former chief at Immunocore, coming on board as CEO last October.

Cambridge, U.K.-based F-star made its name through novel deals with AbbVie, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Denali Therapeutics and Merck KGaA. To strike the deals, F-star spun off drugs to create asset-centric vehicles that its partners could buy down the line. The model enabled F-star to gradually monetize its platform, securing a stream of cash to return to its investors and fund its own operations.

BMS, in fact, had an option to buy a drug from the British biotech, but decided against it back in 2017.

Forster added: “We are delighted to welcome Louis to the F-star team. His oncology expertise and extensive experience advancing clinical research programmes will be invaluable at this stage in F-star’s evolution as we accelerate development of our lead product candidate, FS118, and work to rapidly progress more assets into the clinic.”