Bristol-Myers adds $1.24B deal plus a partnership in immuno-oncology deal frenzy

Following fast on the heels of two earlier immuno-oncology partnerships, Incyte has agreed to partner its prolific IDO inhibitor INCB24360 with Bristol-Myers Squibb's marquee PD-1 program for nivolumab. And with just days to go before the start of ASCO, Bristol-Myers ($BMY) also inked a biobucks-packed $1.24 billion deal with South San Francisco-based CytomX to broaden its pipeline of immuno-oncology drugs with up to four new clinical candidates spawned by its next-gen antibody development platform.

The pair of deals highlights how leaders in this field, which includes Bristol-Myers, Merck ($MRK), Roche ($RHHBY) and evidently AstraZeneca ($AZN), are expanding their work in the immuno-oncology arena through a frenzy of new discovery and development deals. Incyte ($INCY) has already partnered INCB24360 with Merck's MK-3475, with AstraZeneca following up just days ago with a deal on MEDI4736, which has only recently entered the spotlight.

With analysts painting cheery pictures of the blockbuster future that awaits the successful survivors of these fast-tracked development programs, the emphasis now is on gearing up as quickly as possible, while proliferizing cancer targets in an industry gold rush.

Like Merck and AstraZeneca, Bristol-Myers is fascinated by the therapeutic potential of marrying an immune checkpoint drug with a therapy--INCB24360--that is designed to spur an immune system attack on cancer cells. Their Phase I/II study, which will explore the combos impact on multiple tumor types, is being co-funded by the two companies with Incyte taking the lead on the work.

"Given the encouraging data for Incyte's IDO1 inhibitor and our current understanding of nivolumab's anti-tumor immune response, we see this as an important area of study to add to our broad clinical development program," said Bristol's Michael Giordano in a statement.

CytomX, meanwhile, is gaining a $50 million upfront, unspecified preclinical development milestones and up to $298 million in additional milestones for each of up to 4 new "Probodies," or new drug candidates. The targets include CTLA-4, a well-validated target in the field.

The biotech is a 2013 Fierce 15 company which was spun out from the labs of the University of California, Santa Barbara. Their next-level antibodies come with a peptide that blocks the antibody's ability to bind to an antigen until it's clipped off by a disease-associated enzyme.

- here's the release on the Incyte deal
- see the release on the CytomX partnership