Bristol-Myers beefs up fibrosis pipeline with $444M option deal

Francis Cuss, Bristol-Myers EVP and chief scientific officer, R&D

Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) has grabbed an option on an early-stage program for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis this morning, forging a deal to potentially buy out Denmark's Galecto Biotech for up to $444 million--if the drug pans out in the clinic.

Galecto has been working on TD139, an inhibitor of galectin-3. The investigators say that the protein binds to carbohydrate structures, playing a role in IPF that can be derailed by this new drug. TD139 now joins BMS-986020, a lysophosphatidic acid 1 (LPA1) receptor antagonist also in early-stage studies for fibrosis.

Galectin-3 is a well known target in the field. It's also a target at La Jolla Pharmaceutical ($LJPC), which had some explaining to do recently when the high dose used in its inhibitor program missed the mark in a Phase II chronic kidney disease effort. The lower dose hit the endpoint, sending shares up in March, but the company said that over-inhibition could trigger added production of the protein, defeating its aim. The little biotech Galectin Therapeutics, meanwhile, has had to deal with setbacks for a related program.

Bristol-Myers and Galecto shouldn't have to wait too long on this option deal. Bristol-Myers is set to make its decision based on Phase Ib proof-of-concept results.

"Galecto has, in close collaboration with our founders, managed to demonstrate the importance of galectin-3 as an anti-fibrosis target," said Hans Schambye, the chief executive officer of Galecto Biotech, in a statement. "We have confirmed the anti-fibrotic activity of our lead compound, TD139, in several preclinical models and now have taken the compound into clinical testing in healthy volunteers followed by patient studies in early 2015."

Bristol-Myers' R&D chief Francis Cuss noted that "TD139 provides Bristol-Myers Squibb an opportunity to advance the company's fibrosis development program with the addition of a promising compound that has the potential to modulate multiple disease pathways."

- here's the release

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