BMS returns $475M IL-12 oncology asset to Dragonfly's pond

Things are abuzz at Dragonfly Therapeutics as Bristol Myers Squibb has dumped an IL-12 oncology candidate back into the biotech's pond. 

The Big Pharma clearly had big hopes for the candidate at one point. In 2020, BMS handed out nearly half a billion dollars in near-term and upfront payments to license the interleukin-12 (IL-12) immunotherapy program, dubbed DF6002. The therapy is currently being assessed in a phase 1/2 trial in patients with various solid tumors. The dose escalation study is evaluating DF6002 as a monotherapy and in combination with BMS’ cancer blockbuster Opdivo.

Suspicions were first raised last week that DF6002 had been discarded by BMS after the Big Pharma listed an IL-12 drug among the programs it had dropped at the end of last week in a fourth quarter earnings report on Feb. 2.

BMS is still carrying out clinical development for DF6002, but Dragonfly is set to take over in the coming weeks, according to the biotech's Feb. 6 release. Massachusetts-based Dragonfly now holds all the rights for the IL12 cytokine—the most advanced drug in Dragonfly's cytokine pipeline.  

“With a robust early clinical development portfolio, Bristol Myers Squibb constantly evaluates programs based on emerging data to prioritize resources where we see the potential for transformational effects on patients’ lives and the IL-12 program did not meet our threshold for progression," a company spokesperson told Fierce Biotech in an emailed statement.

"Given the encouraging profile we have seen both in preclinical models and in the clinic to date, we are accelerating DF6002's development across a range of indications and combinations," said Joseph Eid, M.D., Dragonfly's president of R&D, who the biotech pointed out in the release had also previously led clinical development of Merck & Co.’s blockbuster Keytruda. Eid joined the biotech last week.

Since 2017, BMS and Dragonfly have inked several deals for oncology and neuroinflammation targets. BMS is still running phase 1 trials for two of Dragonfly’s drug candidates, both of which are based around the biotech’s multi-specific Natural Killer (NK) cell engaging therapies platform, dubbed TriNKET. Just last month, the Big Pharma paid $25 million upfront to license a neuroinflammation TriNKET candidate from Dragonfly.

As for Dragonfly, the biotech is no stranger to Big Pharma collabs, with names like AbbVie, Merck and Gilead swarming its pond and helping run clinical development for several assets.

The announcement about DF6002 comes just days after BMS announced the planned departure in the summer of BMS R&D head Rupert Vessey.