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Bristol-Myers launches biotech targeting fibrosis, inflammation

Bristol-Myers Squibb and partner BioMotiv, a biopharma accelerator, launched Tuesday a new company focused on creating inflammation and fibrosis medicines.The company, Anteros Pharmaceuticals, is investigating a new class of drugs​ with intellectual property developed at Yale University and in-licensed by Bristol-Myers. In addition to the IP, Bristol-Myers is contributing data and reagents for a series of small molecules that work on an undisclosed mechanism. BioMotiv CEO Satish Jindal told BioPharma Dive Anteros’ initial targets are liver and lung fibrosis, with one specific disease being IPF, or idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.Per deal terms, BioMotiv will monitor the early stages of research and development. If or when Anteros nominates a pre-clinical candidate, Bristol-Myers Squibb has the right to acquire the company. In the event of an acquisition, Jindal said BioMotiv would receive an upfront payment and, potentially, milestones and royalties. Financial terms have already been set, but were not disclosed.

Anteros is BioMotiv’s seventh portfolio company and the first to hatch out of the Bristol-Myers partnership that began in September.

Its launch comes shortly after Bristol-Myers closed its $74 billion acquisition of Celgene. While the combined company is largely seen as a cancer drug juggernaut, it also has a fairly deep immunology pipeline as well as a handful of experimental fibrosis treatments.

In fact, one of Bristol-Myers’ drugs is in mid-stage testing for nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, or NASH, a liver disease that causes fibrosis. Another drug is under investigation as a treatment for NASH and IPF.

Building out the immunology and fibrosis pipelines may be helpful, given that Bristol-Myers no longer has Celgene’s blockbuster anti-inflammation drug Otzela (apremilast). The company offloaded that drug to Amgen for $13.4 billion to secure regulatory approval for its megamerger.

While BioMotiv and its partner haven’t disclosed the mechanism of action Anteros is pursuing, Jindal said it has strong biological rationale, but has historically been difficult to block with small molecule drug candidates.

The BioMotiv CEO expects Anteros will have enough preclinical data in two to three years to advance its lead candidate into clinical testing. He said his company and Bristol-Myers plan to spend “whatever it takes” on Anteros — provided the science continues to show promise.

“We have a ballpark number of what it takes to go from this state of the compound to a clinical candidate, which can be $5 million to $7 million,” Jindal said in an interview.

“We know the attrition rate can be pretty high for early-stage projects,” he added. “What we have learned [from past experiences] is how to kill the projects without spending too much money if it’s not going to work.”

Among BioMotiv’s portfolio companies are Koutif Therapeutics and Sujano Bio, each centered around inflammatory conditions, as well as OptiKira, which targets a wide range of diseases, including IPF and NASH.

IPF has proven an attractive target for other drugmakers as well.

Roche recently put up $1.4 billion to acquire Massachusetts-based Promedior and its small pipeline of anti-fibrotic medicines, which includes a lead asset being evaluated as a treatment for IPF, bone marrow cancer, and liver and kidney diseases.

Meanwhile, a Belgian company called Galapagos has pushed an experimental drug known as GLPG1690 into a Phase 3 study for the lung disease.