Bristol Myers’s Hirawat on Pipeline Progress, Clinical Trial Diversity

Xconomy National — 

As the one-year anniversary of Bristol-Myers Squibb Company’s $74bn acquisition of Celgene Corporation approaches, Scrip spoke with chief medical officer Samit Hirawat about the big pharma’s achievements during a challenging period in which the COVID-19 pandemic threatened to derail clinical trials and a national spotlight on racial inequality shined a light on the industry’s lack of diversity.

Key products, such as the PD-1 inhibitor Opdivo (nivolumab), delivered positive results in important studies and won new approvals since the BMS-Celgene merger closed in November. However, Bristol promised Celgene shareholders an additional payout if three key product candidates were approved by certain dates and the company has struggled to meet those deadlines – though approvals for the final two therapies may come through just in time. (Also see “With Celgene Acquisition Closed, Bristol Faces Major Milestones” – Scrip, 21 Nov, 2019.)

Nevertheless, Hirawat describes the BMS research and development team’s achievements over the past 10 months as remarkable given the challenge of keeping programs on schedule during a global pandemic. COVID-19 forced employees to work from home, but clinical trials largely continued.

At the same time, biopharmaceutical companies have been compelled to address concerns in the US and globally about racial inequality. (Also see “Leading A Diverse Company: Biopharma Executives Offer Ways Forward” – Scrip, 12 Jun, 2020.) BMS responded with a $300m commitment that includes training clinical trial investigators from diverse backgrounds and increasing the diversity of participants in the company’s trials – two efforts that go hand in hand, Hirawat noted in a recent interview.

The CMO joined Bristol from Novartis AG, where he was head of oncology development, as BMS assembled a new R&D leadership team in preparation for the integration of Celgene’s pipeline programs into the company. Hirawat oversees drug development from its earliest stages through commercialization and works with Rupert Vessey, who oversaw early R&D at Celgene and now has a similar role at BMS. (Also see “Bristol Unveils Post-Celgene Leadership Team, With Big R&D Changes” – Scrip, 5 Jun, 2019.)


“Our vision is to transform patients’ lives through science,” Hirawat said, “which is something we’ve continued to focus on since the closing of the transaction last year.”

He noted six clinical trials with positive results in areas of large unmet medical need:

The Phase III CheckMate-9LA study of Opdivo, the CTLA-4 inhibitor Yervoy (ipilimumab) and low-dose chemotherapy versus high-dose chemotherapy in first-line metastatic non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC);

The Phase III CheckMate-9ER study of Opdivo and Exelixis, Inc.’s Cabometyx (cabozantinib) in previously untreated advanced renal cell carcinoma (RCC); (Also see “Bristol/Exelixis Detail Survival Benefit For Opdivo/Cabometyx In Renal Cancer” – Scrip, 19 Sep, 2020.)

The Phase III CheckMate-743 study of Opdivo and Yervoy versus chemotherapy in first-line unresectable pleural mesothelioma; (Also see “Pipeline Watch: Phase III Readouts In Mesothelioma, Insomnia, Pruritus” – Scrip, 28 Apr, 2020.)

The Phase III True North study of the S1P receptor modulator Zeposia (ozanimod) in ulcerative colitis; (Also see “BMS’s Zeposia Shines in Ulcerative Colitis Phase III Study” – Scrip, 3 Jun, 2020.)

The Phase III placebo-controlled CheckMate-577 study of Opdivo in the adjuvant setting for patients with resected esophageal cancer; and

The CheckMate-649 study of Opdivo and Yervoy or Opdivo and chemotherapy versus chemotherapy alone in previously untreated advanced or metastatic gastric cancer. (Also see “Pipeline Watch: Phase III Readouts For SER-109, Etrolizumab, Nivolumab” – Scrip, 14 Aug, 2020.)

“These are absolutely remarkable stretches of positive outcomes for patients despite the challenges and unexpected setbacks,” Hirawat said. “We never imagined that there would be a pandemic that we will have to live through as we go through our first year as a combined company. But despite that, if you think about the success rate, we got 17 approvals in the last six months.”

In the US, those include Opdivo plus Yervoy in first-line NSCLC, Zeposia for relapsing multiple sclerosis, Reblozyl for myelodysplastic syndromes and, most recently, Onureg (CC-486) – an oral formulation of the legacy Celgene drug Vidaza (azacitidine) – for acute myeloid leukemia. (Also see “Keeping Track: Gavreto, Sogroya Bring Annual CDER Novel Approvals To 40; New Analgesic Products Make It Past US FDA” – Pink Sheet, 13 Sep, 2020.)

Zeposia’s approval for multiple sclerosis in March came well ahead of a 31 December deadline under BMS’s agreement to buy Celgene, which included a $9 per share contingent value right (CVR) payable to Celgene shareholders if three drug candidates win US Food and Drug Administration approval by certain dates. (Also see “Bristol Values Celgene’s Hematology, Immunology Portfolio At $74bn, But Does It Price In Risk?” – Scrip, 3 Jan, 2019.)

The FDA action dates for the other two – the CD19-targeting chimeric antigen receptor T-cell (CAR-T) therapy lisocabtagene maraleucel (liso-cel) for relapsed or refractory large B-cell lymphoma and the BCMA-targeting CAR-T therapy idecabtagene vicleucel (ide-cel, formerly bb2121) in fourth-line-plus multiple myeloma – are 19 November and 27 March, respectively. (Also see “Bristol’s CAR-T Strategy Comes Into Focus With Two Near-Term Filings” – Scrip, 10 Dec, 2019.)

The user fee dates for both CAR-T therapies cut close to the 31 December deadline for liso-cel and 31 March deadline for ide-cel under the CVR terms. Both products were in danger of being approved late after the FDA requested more information about the biologic license application (BLA) for liso-cel and responded to the initial BLA filing for ide-cel with a refuse-to-file letter. (Also see “A BCMA Setback For Bristol And Bluebird With FDA Refuse-To-File Letter” – Scrip, 13 May, 2020.)


Hirawat noted that, at this time, the liso-cel and ide-cel programs are on track to meet their approval goals and said that in general the BMS R&D team has locked clinical trial databases and delivered results on time despite the fact that … Next Page »

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