Confronting the complexities of cancer

April 06, 2021

When it comes to cancer research, Bristol Myers Squibb is pursuing multiple approaches to match the biology of cancer and advance the next generation of treatments. Below, read more about this multi-pronged approach from the experts leading the company’s diverse cancer research efforts.

Over the past several decades, innovative cancer medicines have had a dramatic impact on disease outcomes, making long-term survival a possibility for more patients. But there is more work to do. 

Bristol Myers Squibb is driven to understand human biology and the complexities of cancer in order to advance the next generation of cancer therapies. The company’s comprehensive pipeline, spanning multiple approaches across platforms and modalities, is an integral part of fulfilling Bristol Myers Squibb’s vision of transforming patients’ lives through science. 

Guided by deep roots 

Research at Bristol Myers Squibb is propelled by a rich history of developing life-changing medicines. The company pioneered the first approved immune checkpoint inhibitor, which ushered in a historic era of harnessing the immune system to treat cancer and ignited exploration into the tumor microenvironment. Bristol Myers Squibb — then Celgene — transformed multiple myeloma treatment outcomes with the first and only established protein degraders, now being studied in several additional cancers. In cell therapy, scientists are leveraging one of the largest datasets of CAR T translational and clinical data in the industry. 

“As the only biopharmaceutical company to bring an FDA-approved immune checkpoint inhibitor, CAR T cell therapy and protein degrader to patients, our unparalleled experience spans several cancer research platforms,” said Rupert Vessey, M.A., B.M., B.Ch., F.R.C.P., D.Phil. executive vice president and president, Research and Early Development. “Combined with the breadth of data we’ve accumulated, this allows us to deeply examine cancer, the mechanisms of action of our assets and patients’ biological responses.” 

These foundational discoveries and datasets enable scientists to build critical learnings into next generation pipeline assets in multiple research platforms, such as protein degradation, cell therapy and Immuno-Oncology (I-O), among other areas. 

Matching the complexity of cancer with a multitude of approaches

“Our rich, diverse pipeline is driven by a deep understanding of disease biology,” said Emma Lees, head, Mechanisms of Cancer Resistance Thematic Research Center. “We’ve purposefully built the pipeline to explore numerous anti-cancer mechanisms that can match the challenges presented by cancer’s ability to mutate, adapt and resist therapy.” 

Bristol Myers Squibb is continuing to investigate novel ways to enhance and restore the body’s ability to fight cancer through the improved recognition of cancer cells and molecular predictors of their resistance to therapy, augmentation of the anti-tumor immune response via novel methods to engage T cells and NK cells, prevention of immunosuppression in the tumor microenvironment, and modification and engineering of effector cells to increase their effects on cancer. 

“The complexity of the tumor microenvironment presents an extensive landscape of research opportunities,” said Debbie Law, senior vice president, head, Tumor Microenvironment Thematic Research Center. “Our research team is actively exploring key interactions within the tumor microenvironment with the aim of overcoming the many hurdles of immune suppression.”

The company is also targeting tumor-intrinsic drivers of oncogenesis, including harnessing the cell’s own machinery for protein destruction, reinstating regulation of gene expression and enhancing cancer cell death with targeted therapeutic payloads. 

“We are attacking the problem from as many angles as possible,” said Mark Rolfe, senior vice president, Oncogenesis Thematic Research Center. “One way we’re doing this is by investigating ways to degrade disease-causing proteins that traditionally have been unapproachable by normal drug discovery paths.”

At the foundation of this research is a strong emphasis on human genetics and large-scale datasets to understand the basis of human disease and the biological impact of our medicines. 

“Essential to our strategy is our application of translational data,” said Teri Foy, senior vice president, Research and Early Development, I-O and Cell Therapy. “We apply our translational learnings across the development pipeline, informing key decisions like trial design, patient selection and combination strategies, to name just a few.”

“With a deep and diversified pipeline of pre-clinical assets, more than 40 clinical stage assets and an expansive arsenal of modalities, we have the flexibility to pursue the approach and modality most likely to provide the best outcome for patients,” said Kristen Hege, senior vice president, Early Clinical Development, Oncology/Hematology and Cell Therapy.

Uniting to take on cancer

“Collaboration is essential to our innovative research strategy and leads us to partner in flexible and novel ways with the best minds in the field to expand the potential impact and reach of our efforts,” said Vessey. “We are continually cultivating a broad, vibrant network of external partners to build capabilities, add early assets to our portfolio and expand innovation through complementary technologies.”

Extensive capabilities, paired with a multi-faceted research approach, enable scientists and researchers at the company to test the boundaries of their own scientific creativity, confront the complexities of cancer and work to solve its hardest problems. 

Together, Bristol Myers Squibb’s researchers are working with urgency to tackle the most pressing issues facing the cancer research community, transform the lives of people facing the most serious diseases and reimagine cancer research, in order to empower all people with cancer to have a better future. Patients are waiting.