Innovations Advanced by M&A: Opdivo and Yervoy’s Substantial Impact on Cancer Treatment

May 15, 2024 | Blog Post, Innovations Advanced by M&A

This blog is another installment in a series, Innovations Advanced by M&A, that underscores the importance of mergers and acquisitions in ensuring a competitive and vibrant biopharmaceutical landscape for patients. You can find previous blogs in this series here:

Within the United States’ cutting-edge life sciences ecosystem, mergers and acquisitions (M&A) are an essential avenue for companies to be able to harness the resources, investment, and know-how needed to bring innovative new medicines to patients. Such was the case for Yervoy and Opdivo, two groundbreaking cancer therapies made possible through the merger of Medarex and Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS), which have significantly expanded the treatment options for thousands of patients with cancer worldwide.   

Building on promising science from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and Johns Hopkins University, Medarex, a small, innovative biotechnology company from Princeton, NJ, quickly rose to the forefront of immuno-oncology, then a new frontier in cancer treatment. The company’s leading therapies aimed to block CTLA-4 and PD-1 – two proteins that act as “brakes” on the immune system – which initial research had shown could unleash the body’s own ability to fight cancer more effectively.

As the significant potential of these therapies to treat a variety of cancers became clear, Medarex merged with BMS in 2009. This partnership allowed Medarex to access the resources and expertise necessary to navigate late-stage clinical trials, scale manufacturing, and ultimately, bring Yervoy and Opdvio to as many patients as possible.

“Medarex has evolved significantly over the past two decades from a research platform to a development company. We believe that this transaction represents a great opportunity to place our clinical programs and technology assets in the hands of one of the world’s premier biopharmaceutical companies with the expertise, resources, motivation and dedication to bring innovative cancer treatment options to patients in need.”

– Howard H. Pien, CEO, Medarex

Following the merger, BMS supported clinical trials that showed Yervoy had the potential to transform the field of melanoma, a skin condition diagnosed in more than 100,000 Americans each year. For the first time in a randomized trial, patients diagnosed with metastatic melanoma experienced extended life expectancy. In 2011 and 2014 respectively, Yervoy and Opvido were approved by the FDA to treat melanoma.

Beyond melanoma, the ongoing collaboration between BMS and Medarex has continuously uncovered new indications for the two treatments, transforming the range of treatment options available to patients battling a number of malignancies. Opdivo has since received approval for gastric cancer, non-small cell lung cancer, renal cell carcinoma and prostate cancer, while  Yervoy, in combination with Opdvio, has been approved to treat renal cell carcinoma, colorectal cancer and non-small-cell lung cancer.

“We welcome the opportunity to further collaborate with the Medarex scientific leadership…We believe Medarex’s antibody generation expertise, located in California and New Jersey, will complement our existing biologics efforts with a dedicated discovery and development capability in immuno-oncology.”

– Elliott Sigal, President, Research and Development, BMS

The far-reaching effects of Yervoy and Opdivo underscores the vital importance of M&A in helping early-stage companies to advance new biopharmaceutical innovations and transform the treatment options available to patients across a range of different diseases. We need balanced and bipartisan policies that acknowledge and preserve this reality.