Bristol-Myers, Johns Hopkins pen I/O research pact

Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) has teamed up with Johns Hopkins University to research why patients respond and develop resistance to its PD-1 drug Opdivo. The five-year project will look at the tumor microenvironment, the microbiome and other factors in a bid to better understand what happens when a patient receives Opdivo in isolation or in combination with other immunotherapies.

An analysis of patient tumor samples across four research areas forms the backbone of the alliance.

Together, researchers from Bristol-Myers and Johns Hopkins will work to characterize tumor antigens and tumor-specific T cells. The project also aims to profile the tumor microenvironment, assess the effect of the microbiome on modulation of systemic antitumor immunity and look at how tumor and immuno-metabolism factors alter responses to immunotherapy.

The partners think the science in these areas has advanced to the point at which it can start to show why patients respond differently to Opdivo, both immediately after receiving it and over a period of treatment.

“We’re at an inflection point of understanding the root causes of response and resistance to immunotherapy, and this collaboration will help propel the research needed to identify ways to expand immunotherapy effectiveness to more patients,” Dr. Drew Pardoll, director of Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg-Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, said in a statement.

The project will assess response and resistance to Opdivo when given as a single agent or alongside Yervoy or experimental immunotherapies.

Bristol-Myers also plans to work with Johns Hopkins on several early-stage trials. These studies will primarily look at neoadjuvant immunotherapies, although Bristol-Myers is retaining the option to branch out beyond this niche.

The collaboration fits into Bristol-Myers’ ongoing attempts to build on Opdivo’s position in the first wave of PD-1 drugs. That initiative has stuttered this year on the back of a misstep in non-small cell lung cancer, ratcheting up the significance of other attempts to differentiate Opdivo.