Bristol-Myers Squibb, Tsinghua University pen drug discovery pact

Bristol-Myers Squibb
The agreement gives Bristol-Myers a possible source of novel drug candidates in two major disease areas. (Bristol-Myers Squibb)

Bristol-Myers Squibb has teamed up with China’s Tsinghua University to discover drugs that hit novel cancer and autoimmune disease targets. The agreement tasks Tsinghua with discovering therapeutics that Bristol-Myers can then choose to license.

Tsinghua has an immunology department staffed by researchers who have advanced understanding of topics such as T cell differentiation and autoimmune disease, and an immunotherapy innovation center that connects its scientists to the pharmaceutical industry. These assets have led companies including Genscript Biotech, WuXi Biologics and Zai Lab to team up with the university.

Bristol-Myers began working with the university on autoimmune target discovery and structural biology research in 2012. Now, the Big Pharma has expanded its collaboration to encompass drug discovery.

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Researchers at Tsinghua will work to discover and validate drugs against novel targets in cancer and autoimmune diseases. As the programs progress, Bristol-Myers will have the exclusive option to pick up the rights to them.

The agreement gives Bristol-Myers a possible source of novel drug candidates in two major disease areas. Equally, the pact strengthens Bristol-Myers’ ties to an important but hard-to-navigate market. Bristol-Myers explicitly highlighted this angle in its press release, describing the deal as “proof of our strategic alignment with China’s innovation-driven healthcare development.”

For Tsinghua, the deal further validates its credentials as an immunology institute and partner of choice for companies working in the field, while also giving it a way to translate its research into new drugs.

“Tsinghua University ICIT continues to explore an innovative technology incubation model to transform basic research results into therapeutic drugs through strategic cooperation,” Chen Dong, director of the Institute for Immunology at Tsinghua University, said in a statement. “We believe that our strengthened collaboration with BMS will combine our respective distinguished expertise in the field of immune diseases, helping transform research discoveries into new treatment options as soon as possible.”