Donnie McGrath is Vice President, Head of Global search and evaluation in worldwide pharmaceutical finance at Bristol-Myers Squibb. He has been working in academic medicine and the life sciences sector for 20 years. His global team is responsible for all search and evaluation and due diligence activities for BMS
Can you briefly summarise for me how you came to your current role at Bristol-Myers Squibb and what that role entails?
I am an infectious disease trained physician. I joined Bristol-Myers Squibb in 2005 after an academic research career so I could focus on clinical trials of novel HIV medicines. After 6 years I moved to business development as an opportunity to focus fulltime on identifying the next generation of transformational medicines for patients with serious diseases in all areas of interest to Bristol-Myers Squibb. I head up the group at Bristol-Myers Squibb that is responsible for finding and evaluating all external opportunities that the company may be interested in. We work very closely with our R&D and commercial colleagues to assess external innovation, and with our colleagues in Transactions and M&A to execute deals. I also head up a team that manages our relationships with the venture capital community, makes direct investments in early-stage biotech companies, and works closely with several top-tier ventures funds where Bristol-Myers Squibb is an LP.
In November 2015 Bristol-Myers Squibb and Life Science Partners entered a strategic collaboration in which the companies will work closely together in identifying European breakthrough technologies and products in immuno-oncology. Are there any particular European breakthrough technologies that are on your radar?
LSP is one of 4 top tier VC firms with a fund in which Bristol-Myers Squibb has invested as an LP. We work with all these firms to stay abreast of early-stage innovative technologies and companies. We are agnostic as to the geographic origin of the innovation that we evaluate and partner with. Europe has a very dynamic life sciences landscape and has been a fruitful source of innovation for us on the partnering front over the last few years. Our first gene therapy deal was with a European leader in the space, uniQure. We also have important partnerships with Innate Pharma and Bavarian Nordic in oncology, and Galecto Biotech in fibrosis. Gene editing technologies remain of high interest to us, as do novel approaches to discovery and development of therapeutics leveraging the evolving science of the microbiome. Europe has also been a great source of innovation for drug discovery technologies and biomarkers, which continue to be critical to any company to remain competitive. Recent examples of companion diagnostic companies with European roots where Bristol-Myers executed important partnerships include Dako (2015) and Leica Biosystems (2014).
Combination therapy is a key growth area for Bristol-Myers Squibb. What criteria are big pharma using to choose their different cancer immunotherapy combinations across the industry?
The number of immunotherapy assets now in development for oncology has grown dramatically in the last few years since the approval of the first checkpoint inhibitor, Yervoy, in 2011. At ASCO this year Bristol-Myers Squibb showed in an early stage study that the combination of two checkpoints, Opdivo and Yervoy, has the potential to dramatically improve treatment outcomes for patients with lung cancer. So clearly focusing on combinations to improve survival in cancer is a critical future direction for oncology. Choosing which combinations of agents to test in early stage clinical trials is challenging given the large number of potential combinations, thus it requires at a minimum having a strong pre-clinical scientific rationale for expecting improved efficacy beyond monotherapy. This includes a clear understanding of the mechanism of action of the agent to be added to a drug like Opdivo, or to be added as a third agent to our Opdivo + Yervoy regimen. For Bristol-Myers Squibb a current focus is on trying to study those mechanisms that can improve the treatment outcomes that we see with either single or indeed dual checkpoint inhibitors, particularly mechanisms that might improve efficacy in the treatment of patients whose cancers express low levels of PDL-1.
To move the portfolio forward Bristol-Myers Squibb is establishing numerous collaborations with innovators in the immuno-oncology field, how can these companies demonstrate value to your company?
We are very open to collaborating to move forward our understanding of the treatment of cancer using immunotherapy. Our collaborations range from the simple provision of free Bristol-Myers Squibb drugs like Opdivo for early-stage clinical experiments conducted by partners, to more complex full discovery and clinical partnerships. Having a data package that indicates a solid understanding of the mechanism of action of the novel drug is key, and data demonstrating how the mechanism can potentially synergize with checkpoint inhibition is something we look for always.