Bristol-Myers dumps $1B-plus Alder deal, punts rheumatoid arthritis drug

Shares of Alder BioPharmaceuticals took a hit Tuesday morning after the biotech reported that Bristol-Myers Squibb had dumped its $1 billion-plus collaboration deal on the IL-6 drug clazakizumab, which had cleared a Phase IIb study for rheumatoid arthritis.

Bothell, WA-based Alder's ($ALDR) CEO, Randall Schatzman, responded in classic form, calling the termination of the deal a big plus for the company, leaving it in control of an advanced, later-stage therapy with strong prospects. The biotech said that Bristol-Myers ($BMY), which significantly narrowed its pipeline focus last fall, had decided to boot the program after reviewing its portfolio of experimental meds and prioritizing its efforts.

Investors took a somewhat dimmer view of the setback, pushing shares down 10% as they digested the news.

Clazakizumab (formerly ALD 518), was the subject of a rich deal back in 2009, when Bristol paid $85 million upfront for rights to the drug, while promising more than a billion dollars in milestones. And it seemed to be going well in the clinic. In a Phase IIb study that wrapped up last fall, investigators said that clazakizumab plus the old RA standard methotrexate beat methotrexate as a solo therapy, reducing symptoms by 20% in 79% of the patients compared to a response rate of about half that for methotrexate alone.

Alder, a 2010 Fierce 15 company, stumbled out of the IPO gate earlier this year, forced to take a discount price on its shares as many other biotechs continued to score well with investors.

"We view BMS's decision as a significant opportunity for Alder," said Schatzman. "This positions us with two programs with positive Phase II data for which we control the timelines and how we move forward with development. The first one is ALD403, which we will continue to develop aggressively based on the promising Phase II data in migraine prevention. The second, clazakizumab, has strong data that were presented at the most recent ACR and EULAR conferences. These data demonstrate the potential for clazakizumab to fulfill the unmet need in patients with rheumatoid arthritis to achieve disease control and remission. At this time we are reviewing our options to expedite the development of clazakizumab while maintaining our focus on the continuing development of ALD403 for migraine on the current timelines."

- here's the release