Ex-Bristol-Myers oncology execs lead cancer R&D investor on to AIM

A cancer R&D investment vehicle led by a pair of former Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) executives has snagged itself an AIM listing through a reverse takeover. The company, which is backed by big name biotech investor Jim Mellon, has put key members of the team that led Bristol-Myers' advance into immuno-oncology in charge of building a portfolio of cancer-focused biotechs.

Jim Mellon

The fund, SalvaRx, engineered a listing on London's AIM exchange this week through an £8.8 million ($12.5 million) reverse takeover of a shell company. As part of the transaction, SalvaRx raised around £2 million. A more substantial fundraising with institutional investors is planned, The Financial Times reports. If successful, the fundraising will position SalvaRx to execute its strategy of hunting out the most promising immunotherapies in academia and biotech, before deploying the cash and expertise they need to advance down the pipeline.

While SalvaRx is far from alone in going after promising early-stage immuno-oncology assets, it has the credentials to back up its belief that it can build a business in bankrolling programs. Mellon, who is reportedly worth £850 million, is a big name in British biotech investment circles and has teamed up with two people who know cancer R&D inside out to get SalvaRx off the ground.

Ian Walters, who headed up oncology R&D at Bristol-Myers at a time when Opdivo and Yervoy were coming down the pipeline, is CEO of SalvaRx. The role reunites Walters with Robert Kramer, a former Bristol-Myers VP of drug discovery and research and Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) exec. Kramer is serving as CSO of the fund, giving it access to two people who had central roles in the emergence of the first generation of cancer immunotherapies. Now, backed by Mellon's money, the pair are looking for the next big thing in immuno-oncology.

"Eighty-five percent of the industry is focusing on checkpoints and antibodies. We are focusing on the other areas where there is a lot of white space," Walters told the FT. Walters is confident that as-yet-untapped opportunities exist, particularly in Europe. "The science is advancing exponentially so there is so much more to come. In the long term this is about turning cancer into a chronic disease." SalvaRx's pursuit of untapped opportunities has already led it to iOx Therapeutics, a University of Oxford spin out that is developing invariant natural killer T cell-activating compounds.

- read the shell company release
- here's SalvaRx's statement
- and the FT's coverage