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BMS replaces R&D head in wake of Opdivo setbacks

As Merck & Co’s Keytruda gains the lion’s share of the market

Bristol-Myers Squibb's R&D head Francis Cuss has quit the company, after a difficult few months prompted by the failure of cancer immunotherapy Opdivo in a lung cancer trial.

Cuss has been replaced by Thomas Lynch, a cancer specialist and BMS board member who was named to the role shortly after Cuss announced his retirement after 14 years as chief scientific officer, and will take over officially on 16 March.

Lynch will now take over the task of setting Opdivo (nivolumab) back on track after its failure to show efficacy in a first-line non-small cell lung cancer trial (NSCLC) last year, with the trial's protocol deemed to be at fault. That disappointment was followed by the revelation in January that it would not be able to file a speedy application for an Opdivo/Yervoy (ipilimumab) combination in this indication based on current data.

The brace of disappointments effectively handed the lion's share of that large market to arch-rival Keytruda (pembrolizumab) from Merck & Co, carving billions of dollars from peak sales estimates for BMS' drug.

Shares in the company have been in decline since the first-line NSCLC data was published, prompting speculation that BMS might become an acquisition target - something that would have been unthinkable just a few months ago when Opdivo was in full ascendency.

BMS' chief executive Giovanni Caforio said Lynch is "an internationally recognised oncologist known for his leadership in the treatment of lung cancer who has made significant contributions to the field of targeted therapies throughout his career", adding that he is confident that the new CSO will help the company accelerate the development of its immuno-oncology pipeline.

Lynch will have the task of bringing Opdivo forward in new cancer indications and - crucially - of combination trials pairing the checkpoint inhibitor with a range of other anticancer drugs, including Yervoy and externally-developed therapies.

He will also have to manage a previously-announced restructuring of BMS' R&D that according to Caforio is designed to inject "speed, adaptability and flexibility" into the operations.

Article by
Phil Taylor

10th March 2017

From: Regulatory

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