SAN DIEGO—Under the terms of a deal struck latelast week, Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. (BMS) will acquire all of the issued andoutstanding shares of capital stock and stock equivalents of closely held Amira Pharmaceuticals Inc.—a small-molecule pharmaceutical companyfocused on the discovery and early development of drugs to treat inflammatoryand fibrotic diseases—in an all-cash transaction of $325 million.
For BMS, a key payoff is securing AmiraPharmaceuticals' fibrosis program for itself, and bringing into it own fold thelead asset of Amira: AM152, an orally available lysophosphatidic acid 1 (LPA1)receptor antagonist which has completed Phase I clinical studies and is nowpoised for Phase IIa proof-of-confidence studies for the treatment ofidiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) and systemic sclerosis (SSc), orscleroderma.
Pulmonary fibrosis is a disease that damages andscars the lungs and makes breathing very difficult, and it gained most of it notorietyin the public consciousness for having a high rate of incidence among earlyresponders to the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York. The disease kills some 40,000 peoplea year, so it's not a gigantic patient population, but Amira has noted that it isa "grievous illness" so it is considered by many to be a good marketopportunity for the first company to come up with an effective treatment.
"As part of the continued execution of our focusedBioPharma strategy, Bristol-Myers Squibb has identified fibrotic diseases as anarea of high unmet medical need that complements our research efforts inseveral of our therapeutic areas," says Elliott Sigal, executive vicepresident, chief scientific officer and president of research and developmentfor BMS. "The acquisition of Amira Pharmaceuticals represents the latestexample of our 'String of Pearls' strategy, a highly targeted set oftransactions designed to enrich our innovative pipeline with potentialmedicines to help patients in need."
"Amira Pharmaceuticals' scientists have beenleaders in the research and development of lysophosphatidic acid receptorantagonists for fibrosis," notes Dr. Jeremy Levin, senior vice president of theStrategic Transactions Group within BMS. "We compliment the professionalapproach of the investors and Amira Pharmaceuticals' leadership and scientificteam who, since 2005, have built a highly innovative company. We will now buildon that history and commitment to innovation to discover and develop novelmedicines in this important disease area."
In addition to the LPA1 receptor antagonist, BMSwill gain Amira's autotaxin program, currently in the preclinical stage. Thisarea is seen to be potentially useful in developing therapies for neuropathicpain and cancer metastases.
BMS has previously noted that plans to introducefive new drugs by 2012, including treatments for cancer, diabetes and heartdisease to offset the expected hit when Plavix, its top-selling drug, losespatent protection next year.
In addition to the upfront payment, BMS reportsthat potential additional milestone payments of as much as $150 million maycome into play, bringing the total price to as much as $475 million. While thatappeals to Amira shareholders and management, of course, what is probably more comfortingto many working at the company is that BMS has said it plans to retain Amira'sscientists who work on both programs and will keep them in San Diego. InNovember 2010, Amira laid off about half its staff—a total of 25 cuts—to slowits burn rate. Those cuts even included three co-founders of the company: ChiefScientific Officer Peppi Prasit, Vice President of Biology Jilly Evans and VicePresident of Chemistry John Hutchinson.
Bob Baltera, CEO of Amira, says he is pleasedabout the acquisition and adds: "Our LPA and autotaxin programs are worldleading and will be in excellent hands."