Bristol-Myers picks up an autoimmune project as Novo quits the field

Novo Nordisk ($NVO), not long for the world of autoimmune R&D, has found a new home for one of its early-stage programs, handing it over to Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) for an undisclosed sum.

Under the agreement, Bristol-Myers gets the exclusive rights to a discovery-stage biologics program that targets the innate immune system, which is the body's first line of defense against infection. Novo's program aims to treat autoimmune disease by modulating bodily response to pathogens, correcting dysregulated immunity to steer patients back to health. Just which targets and diseases remain untold, and neither company is providing monetary details on the deal.

The move follows Novo's September announcement that it's dumping all of its R&D efforts in inflammatory disease en masse. The Danish giant endured a series of setbacks in its autoimmune pipeline, including the Phase IIb failure of the rheumatoid arthritis treatment NN8226, and finally decided to pack it in and focus on its core competencies of diabetes and hemophilia, redirecting some of its resources toward building an obesity franchise. Novo remains the world's largest maker of insulin.

As for Bristol-Myers, picking up the project fits within its expanded focus on immunoscience, the company said. Bristol-Myers has become a leader in developing therapies that use the immune system to fight cancer, successfully launching Yervoy and Opdivo over the past few years. And the company has a wide pipeline of immune-focused antibodies, including the Phase II lulizumab and a host of Phase I assets.

- read the statement