Bristol-Myers Squibb caused a stir last week when it picked up biotech firm Adnexus Therapeutics for $415 million. The biologics manufacturer comes with a promising Phase I compound, a basic drug technology, and a drug discovery platform that permits rapid generation and screening of trillions of compounds.
The two basic technologies that Adnexus brings to the table are the adnectin biologics platform and the Profusion protein-engineering system. Adnectins are based on a common bodily protein called fibronectin, which can be modified in a multitude of ways. As therapeutics, adnectins act very similar to antibodies, though they are significantly easier to manufacture.
"We believe that adnectin has all the advantages of antibodies and a few others beside," said Francis Cuss, senior vice president, discovery and exploratory clinical research for BMS. "When combined with the Profusion technology, it allows us to generate trillions of protein variations to optimize the adnectin very quickly."
The intellectual property is exclusive to Adnexus and allows BMS to avoid the intellectual properties of a number of competitive targets that it wouldn't be able to go after with traditional antibodies.
Adnexus currently has an adnectin drug called angiocept in Phase I trials. The therapy targets the same angiogenic pathway as Genentech's Avastin: It is expected to stop the growth of blood vessels—and even shrink them, in some cases. The drug targets the receptor through which the protein activators function and blocks all protein activators.
That all depends, however, on whether the therapy actually works.
Cuss made it clear that the technology is unproven. Angiocept is the first biological compound to be brought into development using this technology, and BMS is gambling that it will be the validation of the system.
"The potential for angiocept could be superior to Avastin in terms of its effect on cancer; but it is still in Phase I trials, so we have yet to get clinical data to prove that," Cuss said.
If Profusion and adnectin succeed, BMS said it would examine existing targets and its own pipeline to see where the technology could be used.
For the time being, Adnexus will exist as it has. BMS says it has no plans to relocate or close the company. In fact, it aims to not only keep the current staff, but to invest in the company. Adnexus will be a full subsidiary of BMS.
But what, exactly, will Adnexus do for BMS? The company's technology, and especially its discovery platform, has potential uses in a variety of clinical areas. The company skirted the possibility of licensing the technology to other companies. "The focus in the near term is to invest and broaden the scope of adnectin use in different therapy areas," Cuss said. "Obviously, what we want to do is bring Angiocept into our biologics pipeline. This isn't a monolithic strategy; it is a nimble plan that will evolve as circumstances and the environment changes."
BMS is expanding its biologics strategy, which it believes is a cornerstone of future growth. The company has been working with biologics since the mid-eighties, when it acquired the Seattle-based oncology firm Oncogen, which spawned at least two drugs and has another three biologics in development. The company has manufacturing sites in New York State and Massachusetts.