Bristol-Myers inks a $650M deal to pair with Five Prime on immuno-oncology gold rush

Bristol-Myers Squibb, a leader in the race to develop new immuno-oncology therapies, is pairing up with Five Prime Therapeutics to come up with a second set of cancer therapies that target two undisclosed immune checkpoint pathways in a deal worth up to $650 million.

In the deal, Bristol-Myers ($BMY) has agreed to pay Five Prime ($FPRX) a $20 million upfront and $9.5 million for research work while taking a $21 million stake in the company worth 4.9% of its outstanding stock and committing up to $300 million in milestones per target. The package includes royalties that start in the mid-single digits and rises into double-digit territory. And Bristol-Myers will control worldwide rights on any products that come out of the collaboration.

Bristol-Myers is engaged in one of the hottest drug races in the industry, pitting its team working on nivolumab against Merck's ($MRK) MK-3475 group, which has a lot to prove at a company that has gone 7 years with little to show for it by way of big approvals. Immuno-oncology, which is essentially focused on a highly promising approach to unleashing a powerful immune system attack on cancer, offers a multitude of ways in which combination therapies and next-gen treatments could work together. And the field has responded with a lengthy string of new collaborations as industry players look to stake out a section of what could prove to be very valuable research terrain.

Newcomers like Tesaro ($TSRO)--which recently paid AnaptysBio a $17 million upfront to get started on their own program--and Pierre Fabre have been striking immuno-oncology deals while big companies like AstraZeneca ($AZN) are looking to advance their own second-wave therapies. Bristol-Myers and Merck have made headlines with their approach on PD-1 as Roche tackles the complementary PD-L1 pathway, but new pathways that can trigger an immune response are also getting a lot of attention. 

Merck has already unveiled a full slate of partnerships for its drug. And Bristol-Myers Squibb, which had been dogged recently about questions on the timeline for a Yervoy/nivolumab study for lung cancer, clearly intends to focus considerable resources on a full portfolio for its immune-oncology pipeline.

Francis Cuss, chief science officer at Bristol-Myers Squibb

"Immuno-oncology has the potential to be transformational in the treatment of cancer, and Bristol-Myers Squibb has an extensive clinical pipeline and discovery programs dedicated to maximizing this field of research," said Francis Cuss, the CSO at Bristol-Myers Squibb, in a statement. "Five Prime's innovative technology platforms complement our immuno-oncology pipeline and will help expand our understanding of promising new therapeutic options for patients."

South San Francisco-based Five Prime is one of the original Fierce 15 companies. It has a small pipeline of its own as well as a collaboration with GlaxoSmithKline for FP-1039 (GSK3052230), a fibroblast growth factor ligand trap for solid tumors. "This strategic alliance is evidence that our protein discovery platform is ideally suited to identify novel immune checkpoint targets for the development of next generation immuno-oncology therapeutics," boasted Five Prime CEO Lewis Williams.  

- here's the release