Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) and Moffitt Cancer Center joined forces today as part of BMS’s Immuno-Oncology Rare Population Malignancy (I-O RPM) program in the U.S. The I-O RPM program is a multi-institutional initiative with academic-based cancer centers focused on the clinical investigation of immuno-oncology therapeutics as potential treatment options for patients with high risk, poor prognostic cancers, defined as a rare population malignancy.

In 2012, BMS formed the International Immuno-Oncology Network (II-ON), a global collaboration between BMS and academia focused on facilitating the translation of scientific research findings into clinical trials and, eventually, clinical practice.

BMS and Moffitt will conduct a range of early phase clinical studies, including clinical investigations by young investigators to strengthen their development as clinical research scientists.

“Moffitt Cancer Center has had a long-standing commitment to immuno-oncology research, including in partnership with Bristol-Myers Squibb, and we look forward to our continued work with them as part of the I-O RPM program,” said Laura Bessen, M.D., head of U.S. Medical, BMS, said in a press statement.

The I-O RPM program focuses on significant areas of high unmet need marked by poor outcomes among patients with rare population malignancies. A rare population malignancy is a subpopulation within a higher incident disease population (e.g. BRCA 1 and 2 breast cancer). These patients have aggressive disease with an increased potential for early metastasis to multiple sites and/or are initially refractory or subject to early recurrences with conventional cancer therapies. Existing clinical research provide a strong rationale for further research into the potential of immunotherapies for these cancers.

BMS has lately been on a tear adding to its Immuno-Oncology portfolio. In February BMS inked two deals that resulted in the acquisition of Flexus Biosciences for up-to-$1.25 billion, as well as launching R&D collaboration with Rigel Pharmaceuticals that could net that company more than $339 million-plus.

In acquiring privately held Flexus, BMS gained full rights to F001287, Flexus’ lead preclinical small molecule IDO1-inhibitor targeted for IND filing in the second half of 2015. BMS also acquired Flexus’ indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase (IDO) and tryptophan 2,3-dioxygenase (TDO) discovery programs, which include its IDO-selective, IDO/TDO dual, and TDO-selective compound libraries.

In October 2014, BMS disclosed a pair of combination-therapy cancer collaborations involving its Opdivo (nivolumab)—a clinical trial partnership to assess the effect of the investigational immunotherapeutic with Novartis’ Zykadia (ceritinib) and two drug candidates; and a clinical research partnership with the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center to evaluate Opdivo, the already-marketed Yervoy (ipililumab) and three BMS drug candidates.

As part of the I-O RPM program, in August 2015, BMS, the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University (Lurie Cancer Center), and the Northwestern Medicine Developmental Therapeutics Institute (NMDTI) entered into a collaboration agreement. The Lurie Cancer Center and NMDTI is expected to conduct a range of early phase clinical studies and BMS is funding positions within the NMDTI Developmental Therapeutics Fellowship program.

Commenting on BMS’ latest collaboration with Moffitt, Dan Sullivan, M.D., associate center director for clinical science at Moffitt, said in a press statement, “This new partnership with Bristol-Myers Squibb will foster new Moffitt investigator-initiated studies for rare tumors and gives our faculty the opportunity to educate research students about innovative clinical trials.

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