Bristol-Myers axing up to 75 R&D staffers, halts discovery work in three fields

Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) joined the lineup of biopharma companies executing R&D shakeups on Thursday, announcing plans to end its discovery work in three key disease areas and chop 70 to 75 staffers from the payroll in its R&D group as it concentrates resources on some high-profile late-stage programs.

In a statement sent to FierceBiotech, the company said it plans to "focus investment on priority areas such as immuno-oncology, delivering its late-stage pipeline across all its therapeutic areas and focusing discovery to explore disease areas of highest unmet medical need where the company can bring the greatest value."

A spokesperson for Bristol-Myers told FierceBiotech that the change in focus will end its discovery work in hepatitis C and diabetes with plans to eliminate a broader set of research work in neurosciences, with the exception of one Alzheimer's program focused on tau. The neurosciences field is considered one of the riskiest in the industry, and a number of big companies have either exited or retreated from this area in recent years. The total number of job cuts at Bristol-Myers amount to about 1% of the company's staff and all terminations will wrap by the end of this year.

The changeup will also see some staffers transferring into other areas of R&D, says the spokesperson.

"We are focusing our R&D organization on delivering the opportunities where the value is greatest to patients," said Francis Cuss, executive vice president and chief scientific officer of Bristol-Myers Squibb. "We have decided to shift R&D toward a more specialty BioPharma model that focuses on the areas of significant unmet medical need, driving near-term growth through our current late-stage portfolio and on ensuring the long-term growth of the company by evolving the disease areas and drug platforms on which we concentrate our research efforts."  

The realignment comes as Bristol-Myers has been under pressure to improve its financial performance after generic competition cut painfully into its Plavix franchise. Early results for Eliquis have been disappointing, but there are signs that the drug is beginning to live up to high sales expectations. And CEO Lamberto Andreotti has refused to budge on the company's ambitious peak sales expectations

Bristol-Myers Squibb has one of the best late-stage pipelines in the business, a widely held view that was underscored on Wednesday by a new report from Morningstar ranking the biggest biopharma companies' prospects. Days ago the company filed the first all-oral combo therapy for hepatitis C in Japan, matching the breakthrough daclatasvir with asunaprevir. Its PD-1 drug nivolumab is one of the leading checkpoint receptor immunotherapies in the clinic, gaining star treatment at last summer's ASCO meeting. Combined with Yervoy, the drug has produced stellar results in clinical studies, pointing to a bright future. And just days ago its experimental rheumatoid arthritis drug clazakizumab scored promising Phase IIb data.

Much of its best R&D work was done under the supervision of Elliott Sigal, who retired from the company last summer. He was replaced by Cuss, who has worked at Bristol for the past decade. 

It hasn't all been clear sailing on the R&D side of the business, though. Bristol-Myers experienced a catastrophic failure with BMS-094 last year, a hep C therapy it acquired in the $2.5 billion buyout of Inhibitex. That program was a complete write-off after one patient taking the drug died and others experienced organ failure.

R&D expenses at Bristol-Myers fell just short of $4 billion last year.

Rumors of the restructuring appeared first on Derek Lowe's InThePipeline blog, a widely read early-warning system for staffers working on the industry's pipeline projects.

Bristol-Myers' reorganization follows Novartis's decision this week to slash about 500 researcher jobs in Europe and the U.S. as it beefs up its big Boston/Cambridge hub. And Shire followed up with a plan to carve up its research operations in Basingstoke, U.K., as its new CEO pushes more effort on rare diseases.

Just about every top pharma company in the business has either realigned or completely restructured R&D in the past 5 years, which has been reflected in flat overall research spending by Big Pharma.

- read the statement