Bristol-Myers snapping up Amira Pharma for $325M

Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) has made a move to buy up potential drugs for lung disease and inflammation, agreeing to purchase venture-backed biotech Amira Pharmaceuticals. The deal gives BMS footing in a hot field involving drugs against pulmonary fibrosis, a lung disease for which there are no FDA-approved treatments.

New York-based Bristol-Myers will pay $325 million upfront to scoop up Amira, a 2010 Fierce 15 company, and the drug powerhouse has committed up to $150 million in additional milestone payments to Amira's investors. This deal provides a nice payday for Amira backers such as Avalon Ventures, Novo A/S, Prospect Venture Partners and Versant Ventures, the four funds that had bet a total of $28 million on the biotech and its programs as of last September.

Amira's scientists in San Diego are expected to keep advancing the firm's research after the deal closes. Some of the hot commodities the group has been working on include AM152, a small molecule LPA1 receptor antagonist that it's gearing up to move into mid-stage development for pulmonary fibrosis and scleroderma, as well as a preclinical autotaxin program. Amira CEO Bob Baltera made the tough call to trim the staff last fall at Amira--which was founded in 2005 by Merck vets Peppi Prasit, Jilly Evans and John Hutchinson--in part to focus the firm's resources on ushering its drugs through trials.

Pulmonary fibrosis drugs have drawn significant interest in recent years. Gilead Sciences ($GILD) shelled out $225 million last year to scoop up Arresto BioSciences to boost its R&D in the area, Reuters reported. And InterMune's ($ITMN) stock price rallied after the European Commission approved its pulmonary fibrosis drug Esbriet (pirfenidone). Another contender in this market is Stromedix, a venture-backed upstart pursuing mid-stage data on its IPF drug STX-100.

"As part of the continued execution of our focused biopharma strategy, Bristol-Myers Squibb has identified fibrotic diseases as an area of high unmet medical need that complements our research efforts in several of our therapeutic areas," said Elliott Sigal, the company's president of R&D.

- here's the release
- check out Xconomy's coverage
- read the Reuters piece