To increase its activities in fibrotic diseases, Bristol-Myers Squibb will pay up to $475 million for the privately held biotech firm Amira Pharmaceuticals. The deal adds several compounds to the BMS pipeline: AM152, poised to enter Phase II trials to treat idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) and scleroderma; AM211, in Phase I trials to treat asthma; and an autotaxin inhibitor in preclinical studies to treat pain and cancer metastases.
Investors in San Diego-based Amira snag $325 million in cash up front and could enjoy another $150 million in milestone payments as the company’s lead drug candidates move toward the market.
Amira was founded just six years ago by three former Merck & Co. scientists interested in developing drugs that block three classes of bioactive lipids—leukotrienes, prostaglandins, and lysophosphatidic acid (LPA)—involved in mediating inflammation. AM152 modulates the LPA1 receptor, which is elevated in people with IPF. No good treatment options exist for IPF, a disease that causes the lungs to become thick and stiff with scarring.
The acquisition marks the latest step in BMS’s “string of pearls” strategy, which the firm unrolled in 2007 as a means of strengthening its pipeline through targeted deals. The firm has completed 11 other similar transactions.
BMS is pursuing small-molecule and biologic drugs equally under the program. Other small-molecule partners or acquisitions include Kai Pharmaceuticals, Kosan Biosciences, Exelixis, Nissan Chemical Industries, and Teijin Pharma. BMS says it plans to keep the Amira scientists on board and working in their San Diego labs.