BMS takes on Novo Nordisk’s autoimmune projects

Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) has boosted its position in immunology research by licensing a portfolio of autoimmune disease therapies from Denmark’s Novo Nordisk.

The Danish drugmaker indicated last year that it intended to narrow its R&D to focus more on core projects in diabetes, obesity and haemophilia, saying it would exit inflammation research last September.

Under the terms of the deal, BMS has acquired an exclusive global licence to a discovery biologics research programme focused on ‘modulating the innate immune system as a therapy for autoimmune diseases’.

The innate immune system is described by the company as ‘the body’s first line of defence against pathogens’, responding to foreign materials in ‘an antigen non-specific way to stimulate an immediate protective response’.

In that respect it differs greatly from the adaptive immune system, which remembers previous encounters with specific antigens and tries to destroy them when they attack again.

Disruption in the normal functioning of innate immunity pathways plays a critical role in the induction and pathogenesis of autoimmune diseases, according to BMS.

Novo Nordisk has been working on innate immunity for many years, and has been developing a programme focusing on natural killer (NK) cells and other targets – partnered with French company Innate Pharma – since 2006.

The Danish drugmaker handed back rights to the lead compound in the alliance – an anti-NKG2A antibody that was being developed for cancer indications – last June, although it retained rights in other indications, including inflammation.

It is not clear at this point whether part of that programme is covered by the new BMS licence – Novo Nordisk had not responded to queries by the time this article was filed – but it is not unfeasible as the US pharma major already has an active partnership with Innate Pharma in oncology.

The French company says it has two projects in phase II clinical trials – BMS-partnered lirilumab (IPH2102) for acute myeloid leukaemia and IPH2201 for head and neck cancer – and its most recent pipeline update lists a preclinical candidate called IPH33 for inflammation and autoimmune indications.

IPH33 is a monoclonal antibody programme targeting the Toll-like Receptor-3 receptor (TLR3), with potential in a broad range of indications including inflammatory bowel disease and rheumatoid arthritis, according to Innate.

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