Bristol-Myers nabs a HER2 cancer drug in $475M option deal with F-star

Late last year F-star spun out one of its early-stage drugs into a separate "asset-centric" company dubbed F-star Alpha. A group of venture players including Atlas and SR One chipped in $12 million to fund the clinical plans for the HER2-targeting antibody fragment FS102. And now Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) has come along and seized the Phase I-ready prize, nabbing a buyout option on the spinout as well as worldwide rights for an upfront and near-term milestone payment of $50 million in a deal that is worth up to $475 million.

HER2 was one of the original targets in the personalized medicine trend. But a large concentration of patients are either resistant to the current therapies or develop resistance to what's now available--which is where FS102 steps in. Bristol-Myers is now taking over responsibility for the clinical development of the drug and will decide whether or not it will go ahead with a buyout once the Phase IIb begins.

According to Cambridge, U.K.-based F-star, a 2011 Fierce 15 company, the drug binds to a unique site on HER2, killing off HER-2 positive tumor cells. And investigators have racked up enough proof of concept data in preclinical work--demonstrating its effectiveness where trastuzumab plus pertuzumab fail--to draw in Bristol-Myers Squibb.

"It's fantastic for the company and it's a great deal," F-star CEO John Haurum tells FierceBiotech, adding that the upfront and near-term cash leaves the biotech well funded to pursue its work in oncology. Haurum says that F-star currently has close to 40 staffers on the payroll.

The deal also helps validate F-star's technology, a combination of antibody fragments, or Fcabs, that can spur an immune response as well as antibodies crafted with its modular design approach to achieve bispecific properties, making them more effective therapies. Back when FierceBiotech featured the company in the Fierce 15, we described the technology as a "Mercedes coupe (engaged) in a race featuring Lincoln Continentals. It can go down some hard-to-navigate biological alleys. And with fewer nuts and bolts in the works, it's easier to clarify a simplified technology for IP purposes."

That approach has already attracted Merck Serono and Boehringer Ingelheim to F-star. This BMS deal marks the biotech's third collaboration.

The company was initially close to its scientific founders in Austria, but shifted all its R&D to the U.K. in 2012, when former ImClone R&D Haurum took over from Kevin FitzGerald (of Cambridge Antibody Technology fame) as CEO. And F-star made it clear that they planned more spinouts like Alpha.

"This agreement is consistent with our R&D strategy to develop promising treatments that address areas of high unmet medical need, and provides the opportunity to complement our oncology portfolio with a novel targeted therapy," said BMS R&D chief Francis Cuss in a statement. "We look forward to working with F-star and leveraging our broad clinical expertise in oncology to uncover the full potential of FS102."

- here's the release

Special Report: 2011 Fierce 15 - F-star