2020-08-25| R&D

Bristol Myers Squibb to Acquire Forbius for Augmenting TGF-beta Inhibitors

by Ruchi Jhonsa
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In a move to complement its expansive drug pipeline, Bristol Myers Squibb struck a deal to buy the Canadian biotech for its impressive pipeline of TGF-beta inhibitors.

By Ruchi Jhonsa, Ph.D.

Checkpoint blockades for treating cancer are often effective in the beginning, but their effects soon fade when an immunosuppressive cancer environment kicks in. Within the immune system, TGF-beta often plays an immunosuppressive role. It is a cytokine that is produced in large amounts in the vicinity of tumors and works by suppressing effector cell proliferation and function while promoting differentiation of certain suppressive T-cells. Inhibitor of TGF beta, therefore, holds a lot of potential to augment checkpoint blockade therapies.

Forbius, a clinical-stage company with an impressive pipeline of TGF-beta inhibitors. BMS’s interest primarily lies in Forbius’ potential TGF-beta 1&3 inhibitor, AVID200 that recently completed Phase 1a trial in one fibrotic indication as well as in solid tumors. The company believes that the combination of AVID200 with the checkpoint inhibitor might improve the outcomes in cancer patients who fail to respond to existing immunotherapies.

While the company will retain Forbius’ TGF assets including AVID200, it will transfer all the non-TGF assets, which includes EGFR-targeting antibody-drug conjugate to a newly formed private company prior to closing. Forbius’ existing shareholders will retain all the rights of the new company. Although the transaction details are still under the wrap, BMS is set to pay an upfront fee and milestone payments to acquire Forbius.

“With this acquisition, we extend our leading position in oncology by including new pathways that complement our expansive oncology pipeline with the potential to serve more patients with cancer, including those who may not respond to immunotherapy,” said Rupert Vessey, M.A., B.M., B.Ch., F.R.C.P., D.Phil., Executive Vice President & President, Research & Early Development, Bristol Myers Squibb. “As a science-driven company, this transaction shows our continued commitment to source innovation internally and externally to develop new treatments for patients with significant unmet medical needs.”

BMS is not a new contender in this field. Five years back, the company signed an R&D agreement with Rigel Pharmaceuticals that granted BMS a worldwide licensing option for Rigel’s TGF inhibitor platform. The duo recently published data from this collaboration that showed curative in vivo efficacy for their novel TGF-betaR1 inhibitor in combination with the checkpoint blockade antibody in the mouse colorectal cancer model.

“Our portfolio of highly selective TGF-beta inhibitors has shown potential across a broad range of therapeutic areas,” said Ilia A. Tikhomirov, President, and CEO of Forbius. “We are proud that Bristol Myers Squibb recognizes this potential given their global leadership in oncology and unique position to translate innovative science into meaningful treatments for patients with cancer across the globe.”

The potential of TGF inhibitors in improving outcomes in cancer patients has attracted many other companies. GlaxoSmithKline collaborated with Merck to develop a bifunctional fusion protein immunotherapy that targets TGF-beta and PD-L1. Pfizer advanced its TGF-beta-1 inhibitor into the clinic in solid tumor patients in 2018. Scholar Rock initiated testing of a potent and selective inhibitor of latent TGF-beta-1 in combination with a checkpoint inhibitor in solid tumor patients this year. This common interest in TGF-beta inhibitors reflects an enormous commercial opportunity as they can revive several checkpoint blockades that failed initially.

Related Article: Takeda to Sell its Japan Consumer Health Business to Blackstone for $2.3B



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