Bristol-Myers replaces CSO at key point for pipeline

Bristol-Myers Squibb has appointed Thomas Lynch to replace Francis Cuss as CSO. The reshuffle puts the former CEO of Massachusetts General Physicians Organization in charge of returning the luster to Bristol-Myers’ R&D pipeline after a period in which setbacks to Opdivo have dampened expectations.

Lynch joins Bristol-Myers following a 12-month period in which the company’s share price fell by close to 12%. If Bristol-Myers is to make up lost ground, both on the stock market and in the immuno-oncology space, Lynch will need to wrangle the company’s 21-program clinical cancer pipeline into products and combinations that outperform those developed by Merck, Roche and the rest of the congested field.

In Lynch, Bristol-Myers has gained an executive with extensive experience treating and researching cancer from spells at Yale Cancer Center and Massachusetts General Hospital, where he was part of a team that linked genetic mutations to treatment response in lung cancer patients.

With Bristol-Myers coming off the back of a phase 3 that blew up after targeting a broad patient population, rather than limiting enrollment to heavy-expressors of PD-L1, Lynch’s track record of looking at which lung cancer patients are likely to respond could stand him in good stead. That is the hope at Bristol-Myers.

“We are confident Tom is the right person to lead our dynamic R&D organization as we focus on accelerating the development of our immuno-oncology medicines and fully realizing the extraordinary potential of our diverse, innovative pipeline. With deep experience as a clinical researcher, leader of large research centers and a practicing physician, Tom brings unique, important and timely perspectives to the business,” Bristol-Myers CEO Giovanni Caforio, M.D. said in a statement.

The rejig signals the end of Cuss’ 14-year stint at Bristol-Myers. Starting out as SVP of drug discovery, Cuss oversaw a period in which Bristol-Myers became known for having one of the less dysfunctional R&D operations among its peer group. Then, upon taking over as CSO in 2013, Cuss moved Bristol-Myers out of metabolic, neuroscience and virology drug discovery, resulting in the company hitching its future to immuno-oncology and specialty diseases.

Cuss’ reasoning that Bristol-Myers had already lost the hepatitis C market and that neuroscience would remain a money pit has held up. And his belief in immuno-oncology and specialty diseases has been validated, too, although the recent missteps in the development of Opdivo mean other companies may profit more from the growth of the former than Bristol-Myers.

Responsibility for ensuring Bristol-Myers delivers drugs that capture a sizable slice of the market will now fall on Lynch. In addition to the 21 oncology programs, Lynch inherits a pipeline with multiple shots on goal in the cardiovascular space, fibrotic diseases and, in particular, immunoscience. But, with Bristol-Myers in the middle of another R&D reorganization and activist investor Carl Icahn buying up some of its stock, he also joins at a time of upheaval and pressure.