Bristol-Myers bets $1B on Bavarian Nordic cancer vaccine

After a handful of large-scale monotherapy flops for cancer vaccines, many companies now think pairing them up as part of immunotherapy combos might be the way to go. And immuno-oncology pioneer Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) just made a big bet that that's the case.

Bavarian Nordic CEO Paul Chaplin

The pharma giant has inked a billion-dollar pact with Bavarian Nordic to grab an option on Prostvac, the Danish company's Phase III prostate cancer vaccine. Under the agreement, BMS will fork over $60 million upfront, and it'll come through with $915 million-plus in milestones if it moves forward to license and ultimately commercialize the treatment.

The tie-up follows new, promising data the companies rolled out last week from a Phase I study that combined Prostvac and Yervoy, a Bristol-Myers cancer drug. National Cancer Institute investigators said the overall survival benefit in one of the trial's cohorts reached 37.2 months, with an average median overall survival of 31.3 months. That stacked up against an expected OS rate of 18.5 months.

Cancer vaccine makers have been turning their attention toward tandem approaches in the wake of late-stage failures from giants like GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and Merck KGaA, looking for therapies that can complement each other. Researchers are trialing cancer vaccine candidates with checkpoint inhibitors, designed to take off the immune system's brakes--including Bristol-Myers' own Opdivo, which is about to enter a Phase II study with Aduro Biotech's GVAX.

And that new outlook on collaborations in the field has brought more attention to cancer vaccine prospects, Bavarian Nordic CEO Paul Chaplin told FierceBiotech--including his own. "Obviously, we've been looking for a partner for some time," he said. "The world has changed. I think we became quite popular in the last 18 months."

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