7. Bristol-Myers Squibb

Bristol-Myers Squibb
(Bristol-Myers Squibb)

R&D budget: $6.34 billion
Change from 2017: Flat
Total 2018 revenue: $22.56 billion
R&D budget as percentage of revenue: 28%

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know the big news for Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) in 2019 was its buying of Big Biotech Celgene for $74 billion, but the roots of why it wanted to do that stretch back into 2018.

Like Merck, BMS has focused much of its pipeline on checkpoint inhibitors in recent years, first with Yervoy, and then with Opdivo. But unlike Merck, Opdivo hasn’t reached the heights of its rival Keytruda, and the time has come to try to boost the pipeline (whether Celgene can really help with that is up for debate and for another time) and try more Opdivo cocktails.

Before Celgene, there was its record-breaking pact, penned in early 2018, with biotech Nektar and its immunostimulatory therapy NKTR-214, which will be wedded to Yervoy and Opdivo to see whether a cocktail approach can boost its cancer-killing effects.

The deal broke records as all told, Bristol-Myers put a massive $3.6 billion on the table: Breaking it down, BMS paid $1 billion upfront and bought $850 million in Nektar stock at a 36% premium. The Big Pharma will also hand over up to $1.8 billion more in milestones, 80% of which are tied to clinical and regulatory events. The remaining 20% are more distant sales milestones.

This makes it the largest biotech licensing fee in history and shows how much BMS wants to find an edge over Keytruda. Many questioned the size of the deal, however, and whether NKTR-214 can deliver. At ASCO last year, data pairing the drug with Opdivo left many confused as to whether this was good for the companies or not. A bladder cancer readout in February of this year also failed to deliver much muster.

RELATED: ASCO: Mixed reaction to BMS, Nektar’s high-stakes ‘confusing’ I-O trial

This was compounded by Plainview LLC, which has a short position in Nektar, coming out last October to attack Nektar’s leading asset as having “zero value.” BMS will hope its Celgene and Nektar deals bear better fruit in 2019 and beyond.

BMS currently has 38 compounds in development against a number of targets, including cancer and cardiovascular diseases and fatty liver disease: Check out BMS’ pipeline.

7. Bristol-Myers Squibb

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