Bristol-Myers Squibb: The End of the Beginning
Francis Cuss

As the cycle of scientific innovation moves faster than ever, breakthrough therapies for diseases like cancer have never been more promising. But if you’re one of the estimated 1.6 million individuals in the U.S. alone who will receive a cancer diagnosis this year or someone already battling cancer, such innovations can’t advance fast enough for you.

Bold biotechnology ideas – like those that will be presented at the 35th Annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco this week — hold great potential for patients. But potential alone doesn’t treat cancer.

Head in the Clouds, Feet on the Ground

We need passionate innovators, scientists and entrepreneurs alike, who think big and can turn the next big idea in cancer care into reality.  I think of this combination of skills as “head in the clouds and feet on the ground.” We need big ideas, to be sure, to advance treatment options for cancer patients. But it’s only by turning those ideas into reality – into new therapies – that we can help patients.

That’s where “feet on the ground” come in, the ability to develop and deliver on an idea, to execute.

One of things I love most about my job leading Research & Development at Bristol-Myers Squibb is striving to reach that intersection of collaboration and innovation. Along the way we work not only with our own team members but also with the best and brightest minds outside BMS. We know from experience that the seeds of big ideas are not always homegrown.

Inside Out Innovation

In fact, if not for an enterprising approach to innovation and collaboration, Immuno-Oncology as we know it today, including therapies such as OPDIVO® and YERVOY®,would likely never have made it out of the lab. While the idea of fighting tumors by unlocking the power of the patient’s own immune system had been around for decades, an important first step for I-O at Bristol-Myers Squibb came when we initially teamed up with Medarex, a New Jersey-based biotech company, more than 18 years ago.

As part of a research agreement, we began working with Medarex to explore its proprietary technology to create human antibodies for use in our drug discovery program. It was an exciting time to be working in R&D, as we witnessed first-hand collaboration fueling innovation.

In 2004, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Medarex signed another collaboration agreement, this time to co-develop what would become YERVOY®, the first Immuno-Oncology agent to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration. In 2009, we acquired Medarex; and just five years after its first FDA approval in 2011, YERVOY® has been approved for use in 50 countries. Over that period, we also developed OPDIVO®, which is approved in 10 indications across five tumor types in the U.S. and approved in more than 55 countries around the world. 

From an innovation standpoint, both companies benefitted tremendously from working together. But the real beneficiaries of collaborations such as these, we believe, are cancer patients themselves who may now have access to these innovations.

What if…

As we look to the future of I-O and our unrelenting commitment to help improve the lives of cancer patients, we continue to explore new therapeutic approaches. Last month we announced an agreement with U.K.-based PsiOxus Therapeutics to explore whether ‘armed’ viruses, including the common cold virus, could help treat tumors that are resistant to immunotherapy.

Under another recent agreement, we will be working with Paris-based Enterome and examining whether the French company’s metagenomic technology platform and leadership in the rapidly advancing science of the gut microbiome could support the discovery of novel immunotherapy agents and biomarkers.

Through our external partnerships and collaborations we’ve helped to usher in a new chapter in cancer care, one in which we no longer have to wonder, ‘What if there were additional treatment options for patients beyond surgery, chemotherapy and radiation?’ 

When I reflect on this moment in the history of cancer treatment and I-O’s emerging role in helping patients battle cancer beyond other modern-day treatment options, I often think about a famous quote from a speech Winston Churchill delivered during World War II.

There’s still more work to be done, but when it comes to the future of battling cancer – and to paraphrase Churchill –  we find ourselves not at the beginning of the end but rather at the end of the beginning.


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