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Bristol-Myers Targets Heart-Failure Drugs in R&D Effort

Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., pouring resources into new immune system-based cancer drugs, said it also plans to expand development of treatments for congestive heart failure and fibrosis.

The drugmaker also isn’t ready to give up on therapies for the neurodegenerative malady Alzheimer’s Disease, despite the failure last year of an experimental compound in the second of three phases of trials. Bristol-Myers’s researchers discussed the plans on a call yesterday held by Tim Anderson, an analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein & Co.

Bristol-Myers is the most dependent of the major U.S. drugmakers on pharmaceuticals, and has no non-drug businesses such as animal health or diagnostics. The New York-based company is ready to expand its research and development areas, said Elliott Sigal, the outgoing head of R&D at Bristol-Myers.

“About a decade ago, we really reined in the research efforts and focused on certain areas,” Sigal said. The company has been “revising them slowly over time as we refine the need and refine the science.”

Bristol-Myers said there are new opportunities in heart failure, a field now dominated by generic medicines. “The reason we want to re-engage is that the science has evolved to the point where there are interesting targets,” said Brian Daniels, senior vice president of global development.

Bristol-Myers rose 5.1 percent to $44.34 at 4 p.m. New York time, its highest closing price since March 2002, as investors await new data on two Bristol-Myers’ cancer therapies that will be released today by the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

Neuroscience Efforts

The company won’t give up on neuroscience treatments, Sigal said. “The science and the need is such that for a company our size, that type of portfolio play is very important,” he said. Avagacestat, an Alzheimer’s treatment, failed in trials in December. And Bristol-Myers has an experimental migraine treatment called BMS-927711 that it may sell.

Sigal will be replaced by new Chief Science Officer Francis Cuss on July 1.

Heart failure is now often treated with drugs to lessen the cardiovascular system’s workload, classes of therapies known as beta-blockers and ACE inhibitors.

Bristol-Myers believes it can improve on those drugs, Daniels said. “There’s significant unmet medical need.”

Heart Failure

About a million people in the U.S. are hospitalized with congestive heart failure every year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, and 5.8 million Americans have the disease. Patients with heart failure can’t pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs, and it’s among the most common reasons for a hospitalization, according to the CDC. It can be caused by diabetes, high blood pressure, or blocked arteries.

Bristol-Myers will also test new treatments for pulmonary fibrosis, Cuss said. It may run trials with drugs the company has developed itself as well as AM152, an experimental therapy gained with the $325 million purchase of Amira Pharmaceuticals Inc. in 2011.

Pulmonary fibrosis is a disease of the lungs that affects about 128,000 people in the U.S., according to the Coalition for Pulmonary Fibrosis. The disease scars lung tissue, making it more and more difficult to breathe. There is no known cure.

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