Bristol-Myers oncology team gears up for cycling fundraiser

More than 80 Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) employees on 6 teams saddle up Thursday for a cancer-fighting cycling campaign. Amid the company's immuno-oncology push in R&D and sales, the oncology employees are raising money for the national organization Stand Up to Cancer--and BMS will match their earnings dollar-for-dollar up to $500,000. In its second year, the expanded team, up from 53 riders last year, hopes to top $1 million for Stand Up to Cancer.

Teresa Bitetti, senior VP, U.S. Oncology for Bristol-Myers, said in an email interview that the Coast 2 Coast effort "evolved organically from employees in our oncology business who shared a common interest in cycling and were inspired and motivated to join together to raise funds and awareness for cancer research."

While she declined to answer how the cycling campaign fits into Bristol-Myers' overall marketing efforts, it's clear that BMS has a vested interest in winning over the cancer community. While it has delivered cancer-fighting treatments since the '70s, it has more recently refocused on immuno-oncology. In the spring, its melanoma treatment Opdivo was the first immunotherapy approved to treat lung cancer. The drug is currently in 50 trials for multiple tumor types as a monotherapy or combination therapy. Bristol-Myers is also working with AbbVie ($ABBV) on elotuzumab, which it will market as Empliciti, now on an FDA fast track to approval in multiple myeloma.

Bristol-Myers also has a long history with cycling, dating back to a partnership with then-cycling champion Lance Armstrong to create and sponsor the weeklong Britol-Myers Squibb Tour of Hope through the mid-2000s. The company also signed on as a sponsor of Armstrong's U.S. Postal team in the Tour de France. Armstrong had beaten testicular cancer in mid-90s with the help of three BMS drugs and starred in a Bristol-Myers' corporate advertising campaign with the tagline "Hope, Triumph and the Miracle of Medicine" begun in 2000.

Bristol-Myers is also not the only pharma using cycling to promote healthy causes along with its brand: Astellas and Novo Nordisk ($NVO) sponsor professional cycling teams, with Novo's made up of riders who have diabetes.

Bristol-Myers has several other efforts in conjunction with Stand Up To Cancer, including sponsorship of a PSA featuring actor Tony Goldwyn, which began in April, and a donation to the Ken Burns documentary "Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies."

- see the Coast 2 Coast 4 Cancer info page

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