Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) said today it agreed to license from Novo Nordisk a research program focused on modulating the innate immune system as a therapy for autoimmune diseases. The price was not disclosed.

The deal fits both BMS’ focus on autoimmune or “immunoscience” diseases as one of its eight core therapeutic areas, as well as Novo Nordisk’s increasing specialization in diabetes therapies.

In immunoscience, BMS markets Orencia® (abatacept) to treat rheumatoid arthritis and Nulojix® (belatacept) to protect against organ rejection in adults receiving a kidney transplant, in combination with basiliximab induction, mycophenolate mofetil, and corticosteroids.

The pharma’s most advanced pipeline drug in the specialty is the Phase II compound lulizumab pegol (BMS-931699), which targets the T-cell-specific surface glycoprotein CD28. As of March 19, BMS was recruiting patients for a Phase II trial (NCT02265744) evaluating the safety and efficacy of lulizumab versus placebo in the treatment of systemic lupus erythematosus over 24 weeks, according to

BMS also had no fewer than five immunoscience Phase I compounds in its pipeline as of July 10, 2014, according to its website.

Novo Nordisk disclosed in September 2014 it was retreating from inflammatory disorders R&D, following the failure of NN8226 in a Phase IIb study assessing the anti-IL-20 monoclonal antibody for treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.

Last week, Novo Nordisk deputy chief executive Kaare Schultz told Reuters that the company expected diabetes to account for 80% to 90% of its sales in 10 years, up from the current 79%: “This is the key focus for the company and we see strength in staying focused.”

The new licensing agreement is Novo Nordisk’s fifth R&D partnership with BMS. However, all four previous collaborations were inked with predecessor companies later acquired by BMS—three with ZymoGenetics, and a human antibodies partnership with Medarex launched in 2000.

Additionally in 2009, Novo Nordisk in-licensed a fully-human anti-IL21 monoclonal antibody (IL-21 mAb) developed by ZymoGenetics, in return for agreeing to shell out up to $181.5 million in upfront and milestone payments.

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