BMS seeks leg up in immuno-oncology with Parker Institute and CRI pact

Bristol-Myers Squibb will tap into the immuno-oncology expertise of the Parker Institute and Cancer Research Institute (CRI) in a bid to accelerate clinical trials of new cancer medicines.

The deal gives BMS a channel into a virtual network of more than 300 cancer specialists and 60 labs set up by ex-Facebook and Napster billionaire Sean Parker last year with a $250 million warchest. Add in the extensive patient group and scientist connections of the non-profit CRI—which teamed up with the Parker Institute last year—and the partners say they have a potent toolbox for clinical research and cancer drug development.

BMS said it is the first biopharma industry partner to join the collaboration, penning a multi-year deal that will see the drugmaker "solicit … clinical research proposals [and] coordinate multi-site collaboration clinical studies to pursue some of the most difficult questions in cancer research."

The terms of the agreement are not being disclosed, but it is non-exclusive and the Parker Institute and the CRI have indicated that they expect to sign deals with other cancer immunotherapy developers wishing to access the network and toolkit.

Parker Institute researcher Ramy Ibrahim told Endpoints News that while larger drugmakers may be asked to contribute $15 to $20 million, smaller players would not necessarily need to contribute similar funding.

BMS' decision to forge the alliance comes after its undisputed lead in the immuno-oncology sector with checkpoint inhibitor Opdivo (nivolumab) has been cut by clinical setbacks, including Opdivo's failure last year to show efficacy as a monotherapy in a first-line non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), with the design of the pivotal trial underpinning the program put at fault.

There followed a revamp of R&D operations at the drugmaker as well as a change at the helm with Thomas Lynch replacing Francis Cuss as chief scientific officer. And since then, BMS' hopes of regaining ground in first-line NSCLC with an early filing for a combination of Opdivo and Yervoy (ipilimumab) have not gone according to plan.

Regardless, Opdivo still sits ahead of its immuno-oncology rivals among the expected top-selling cancer drugs in 2022, but the setbacks knocked a couple of billion dollars off its sale projections in that year, while allowing Merck's Co's rival drug Keytruda (pembrolizumab) to gain ground.

And with new competitors reach the market such as Roche's Tecentriq (atezolizumab) and Merck KGaA/Pfizer's Bavencio (avelumab), BMS needs all the help it can get to keep its lead and manage a huge immuno-oncology pipeline.

Getting access to the Parker Institute and CRI networks could be a big advantage for BMS when it comes to enrolling patients into clinical trials, which some see as a potential bottleneck for cancer immunotherapy development due to the sheer number of drugs and combinations coming through industry pipelines.

BMS' head of oncology development Fouad Namouni, M.D. said the company "is initiating this unique collaboration with a goal of accelerating the identification and development of new treatment options for patients who are facing very serious disease.

"We are excited to partner with the Parker Institute and the Cancer Research Institute to leverage the unique translational capabilities of their networks and explore novel mechanisms of action in the field of immuno-oncology."