Carl Icahn is reported to have taken a stake in Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) yesterday, the same day the pharma giant announced plans to satisfy another activist investor by adding three directors to its board and buying back $2 billion of its stock.
News of Icahn’s reported stake in BMS sent shares higher at the close of trading yesterday, with the stock climbing to $57.21 before sliding to a closing price of $54.78, up 0.35% from $54.59 at the close of the previous trading day Friday.
Icahn’s undisclosed stake was reported by The Wall Street Journal, which cited unnamed sources in also attributing to him the view that BMS’ pipeline would make the company attractive enough to be a takeover target.
Icahn is the second activist investor to emerge at BMS since the fourth quarter of last year, when Jana Partners became a shareholder in the company.
The emergence of activist investors follows the disclosure in August that BMS’ marketed drug Opdivo® (nivolumab) failed a Phase III trial assessing its effectiveness as a monotherapy in patients with previously untreated advanced non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Shares of BMS have fallen 28% since that announcement.
BMS rattled investors again on January 19 when it said it decided not to pursue an accelerated regulatory pathway for the combination of Opdivo plus Yervoy® (ipilimumab) in first-line lung cancer in the U.S. “based on a review of data available at this time.” The company said at the time it would not disclose details of its data “in order to protect the integrity of ongoing registrational studies.”
Despite bringing Opdivo and Yervoy to market, BMS has lagged behind Merck & Co. in securing new indications for its marketed cancer immunotherapy Keytruda® (pembrolizumab), which has shown promising overall survival results in first-line NSCLC.
Last month, Merck won European Commission approval of Keytruda for first-line metastatic NSCLC in adults whose tumors have high programmed death-ligand 1 (PD-L1) expression (tumor proportion score of 50% or more) with no epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR)- or anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK)-positive tumor mutations. Also in January, the FDA accepted for review the company’s supplemental Biologics License Application of Keytruda plus chemotherapy (pemetrexed plus carboplatin) for first-line metastatic or advanced nonsquamous NSCLC regardless of PD-L1 expression, with no EGFR or ALK genomic tumor aberrations.
Yesterday, BMS announced the appointment of three new independent directors to its board. The appointments expand the board to 14 members, only 11 of which will stand for election at the company’s annual meeting set for May 2.
The three were Robert J. Bertolini, former president and CFO of Bausch & Lomb; Matthew W. Emmens, a former chairman, president and CEO of Vertex Pharmaceuticals; and Theodore R. Samuels, former president of Capital Guardian Trust Company and a former global equity portfolio manager at Capital Group.
“Their unique skill sets and experience will be invaluable to the company going forward,” BMS chairman Lamberto Andreotti said in a statement, adding that he will retire as chairman effective May 2, as the company announced in December.
BMS said the board appointments followed discussions between the company and Jana, which as of December 31 owned 3.9 million BMS shares valued at the time at $226 million, a stake well below 1%. That stake remains below 1% though it has “substantially increased” this year, Reuters reported, citing unnamed sources.
BMS also announced plans to repurchase $2 billion of its common stock, using a combination of debt and cash to fund the repurchase. The company has entered into an accelerated stock repurchase program with Morgan Stanley & Co. and Goldman, Sachs & Co.