Seeking Tau: BMS Buys iPierian and Brain-Disease Program for $175M

Xconomy San Francisco — 

Born five years ago from the merger of two cutting-edge stem cell companies, iPierian has agreed to an acquisition. Bristol-Myers Squibb is buying the South San Francisco-based biotech firm for $175 million upfront, with potentially $550 million more based on the progress of iPierian’s pipeline of antibodies to treat tau-mediated neurodegenerative disease. Details of those milestones weren’t immediately available.

IPierian’s lead candidate, IPN-007, has not yet reached the clinic. It’s an antibody aimed at progressive supranuclear palsy, a devastating neurodegenerative disease that moves much faster than Alzheimer’s. IPN-007 is designed to stop the protein Tau from spreading from neuron to neuron in the brain. The form of Tau being targeted, which iPierian calls “eTau,” for “extracellular,” was discovered rather recently and is a prime suspect in the complicated mechanisms that cause Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.

A deal for iPierian isn’t surprising, as the company under CEO Nancy Stagliano cleaved itself in two last year, spinning out True North Therapeutics with many of the same venture backers. True North is also making antibodies but focusing on targets within a part of the innate immune system called the complement system. Stagliano remains CEO of True North.

IPierian used its early expertise in stem cell biology to re-create disease models for its drug discovery efforts. By building upon what has become Nobel Prize-winning work, it turned skin cells back into pluripotent stem cells, and then prompted them to become various brain cells. Using these cells, iPierian approximated complex brain biology in a dish to advance drug discovery.

IPierian’s backers include Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, MPM Capital, Google Ventures, and SR One.