BMS's Big March Continues with $1B Volastra Oncology Alliance

Charles Hugh-Jones

Volastra Chief Executive Officer Charles Hugh-Jones/Courtesy Volastra Therapeutics 

Hot off the heels of its milestone approval for the unique checkpoint inhibitor Opdualag, Bristol Myers Squibb Company forged an oncology drug discovery and development deal valued at more than $1 billion with Volastra Therapeutics

BMS will leverage Volastra’s proprietary CINtech platform to identify CIN-related, synthetic lethal targets as drug candidates. In its announcement, New York-based Volastra noted that synthetic lethality is a well-established genetic approach to target discovery. The approach involves the exploitation of the vulnerabilities in the cells of cancerous tumors in order to safely induce cell death while sparing normal cells.

Volastra noted that its pre-clinical research has shown that synthetical lethal approaches can be particularly effective in tumors with high levels of CIN, which has been identified as a key driver of metastatic cancer. Volastra is developing proprietary computational and experimental approaches to understand CIN biology and drive drug discovery. The company’s CINtech platform marries proprietary imaging technologies, model cell line systems and computational analytics. 

Rupert Vessey, executive vice president of research & early development at BMS, expressed excitement about the collaboration with Volastra and the company’s chromosomal instability targeting platform. Vessey said new therapies targeting CIN have the potential to enhance treatment selectivity and improve patient outcomes. 

The two companies are keeping the oncology targets close to the vest. Under the agreement terms, Volastra is expected to conduct research activities through the selection of developmental candidates. From there, BMS may take on all subsequent development, regulatory and commercialization activities.

Volastra stands to make a significant amount of money from the partnership but the financial terms are heavily weighted on the back end of the deal. Volastra will receive an upfront payment of $30 million and stands to make an additional $1.1 billion from potential development, regulatory and commercial milestone payments. Volastra will also be eligible for royalties on any sales.  

Volastra Chief Executive Officer Charles Hugh-Jones, a Pfizer veteran, said his company has a significant understanding of chromosomal instability, which he called the “Achilles heel” of cancer. The oncology expertise of BMS combined with Volastra’s platform is an ideal partnership to develop and advance novel therapies, he said. 

“Through this collaboration, Volastra will apply our innovative platform towards the creation of effective CIN-targeted medicines. We look forward to working together with Bristol Myers Squibb to transform cancer treatment,” Hugh-Jones said in a statement. 

In addition to BMS, Volastra has also partnered with Dewpoint Therapeutics to discover novel molecules capable of blocking immuno-suppressive signaling in CIN-high tumors. The company also entered into a big data partnership with Microsoft to develop algorithms capable of identifying markers that correlate with tumor metastatic behaviors. 

Oncology is a key focus for BMS. While the company celebrated the regulatory win for its LAG-3-aimed Opdualag for melanoma, the company also saw a setback in Melanoma with the failure of the Phase III PIVOT IO-001 study. That trial saw the pairing of Nektar Therapeutics’ immunotherapy drug bempegaldesleukin in combination with BMS’ anti-PD-1 drug Opdivo compared to Opdivo alone in metastatic melanoma. As BioSpace previously reported, the trial failed to meet two of the endpoints: progression-free survival and objective response rate. 

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