Bristol-Myers Drops Research Areas in Shift to Cancer

Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., the drugmaker whose stock has outgained its peers in the past 12 months, will overhaul its research programs and end new work in diabetes, hepatitis C and neuroscience.

The move will let Bristol-Myers pour more resources into immune system-based cancer therapies, which the company sees as a promising field that could revolutionize treatment. It will end “broad based discovery work” in the other areas, the company said in a statement on its website.

“We are focusing our R&D organization on delivering the opportunities where the value is greatest to patients,” Francis Cuss, the New York-based company’s head of research and development, said yesterday in announcing the changes.

Bristol-Myers has been the top performer among its pharmaceutical peers in the last 12 months, gaining 63 percent, largely on promising data for its experimental cancer treatments. The shares rose 2.1 percent to $52.35 at 4 p.m. New York time.

Outside of cancer, the company has faced drug development setbacks and slowing sales. A hepatitis C compound acquired through the purchase of Inhibitex Inc. in 2012 failed in testing, resulting in a $1.9 billion charge. Demand has been slow for its diabetes drugs, marketed with London-based AstraZeneca Plc, and U.S. regulators rejected an experimental diabetes treatment, Forxiga, for approval.

“The company will focus investment on priority areas such as immuno-oncology, delivering its late-stage pipeline across all its therapeutic areas and focusing discovery to explore disease areas of highest unmet medical need where the company can bring the greatest value,” Bristol-Myers said in the statement.

Early Testing

Of the 16 compounds Bristol-Myers lists on its website as in the first stage of clinical development, six are for cancer. One is for diabetes, and two for neuroscience.

The two neuroscience compounds in the first phase of trials probably will be cut, Laura Hortas, a company spokeswoman, said in an e-mail. “They are still being evaluated but we will likely be winding down those programs,” she said.

While the company isn’t closing any facilities, about 70 to 75 jobs will be eliminated, she said.