Bristol-Myers Squibb will pay $300 million up front and up to $2 billion in biobucks for IFM Therapeutics and its new immuno-oncology approaches.
This comes just a year after the preclinical upstart raised a $27 million series A, with backing from Atlas Ventures, Abingworth and Novartis’ venture arm.
The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company is currently working on developing a portfolio of first-in-class small molecules that aims to either boost inborn immune responses for treating cancer or dampen certain immune responses that drive many inflammatory diseases.
BMS wants the cancer assets now but may take on its other candidates down the line.
The $1.01 billion, which will be in addition to the $300 million upfront, comes in the form of milestones for each of the first products from the two programs, making it worth $2.3 billion in total.
This includes IFM’s preclinical STING (stimulator of interferon genes) and NLRP3 agonist programs, both focused on enhancing the innate immune response for treating cancer. BMS gains full rights to the programs.
IFM’s STING agonist program includes a lead asset that accelerates the company’s efforts against this target, while the NLRP3 agonist program includes a potential first-in-class pipeline candidate.
IFM is also in line for extra milestone payouts for other products coming out of these programs, although further details were not given.
And as part of the deal structure, a new spin-out will be made with shareholders of IFM, known as IFM Therapeutics LLC, holding on to its current personnel and facilities, as well as its remaining research programs.
This includes an NLRP3 antagonist program focused on curbing immune responses that lead to inflammatory diseases, as well as fibrosis.
BMS gets “certain rights” against the NLRP3 antagonist program, including a right of first refusal, it adds in a statement.
“Targeting innate immunity pathways represents a potentially differentiated approach in immuno-oncology designed to initiate and augment immune responses that may help the body’s natural defenses better recognize and attack tumors,” said Thomas Lynch Jr., M.D., executive vice president, CSO at Bristol-Myers Squibb, in a release.
“The addition of STING and NLRP3 agonist programs broadens our ability to investigate additional pathways across the immune system and complements our immuno-oncology portfolio. We look forward to advancing the development of these important programs initiated by Gary Glick, his leadership team and leading academic and industry experts across immunology and oncology.”
“A comprehensive body of preclinical data support the continued research of IFM’s NLRP3 and STING agonists with a goal of uncovering their potential benefit to patients, particularly those not served by currently available cancer immunotherapeutics,” added Gary Glick, Ph.D., CEO and co-founder of IFM Therapeutics, as well as a founder of Lycera, in the release.
This comes as BMS is looking to boost its own early-stage I-O pipeline, and as its major immuno-oncology med Opdivo (nivolumab) has suffered trial setbacks in the past year (although rivals Merck, AstraZeneca and Roche have also been beset in recent months).
It’s a fairy tale for IFM to be swept up in a blockbuster deal just a year after a series A and with such early-stage candidates.
Of course, BMS is no stranger to biotech buyouts; last year it spent $600 million to unlock autoimmune biotech upstart Padlock, and back in 2015 a $1.25 billion deal for another very young cancer biotech in Flexus, with a similar deal structure.