Immuno-oncology race gets bloodier: BMS is suing its former executive now working for AstraZeneca

June 2, 2015 - 2 minutes

Immuno-oncology has gone from a competition to a battlefield. Bristol-Meyer Squibb launched a lawsuit against David Berman, a former researcher that abruptly quit last month after 10 years working for the company’s cancer R&D division. Berman, with his deep knowledge about BMS’s immune-oncology research, headed to AstraZeneca, BMS’ principal opponent. Game on.

In this competitive world there is no consolation prize for second place. Bristol-Myers Squibb knows this all too well and it is not willing to lose this multibillion race. The company may be a leader in the immuno-oncology field, but definitely has reasons to believe that its work is threatened. The resignation of David Berman, who had a major role in BMS’s development of new checkpoint inhibitors, rang all the alarms. The oncology expert was, most recently, Head of the immuno-oncology exploratory development team in BMS and his know-how could be definitely useful for English AstraZeneca, which rapidly hired him.

According to the lawsuit, when BMS reminded Berman that he was subject to non-competition covenants, Berman said that he intended to work for a competitor all the same. Of course, the American company couldn’t stand still, and went directly to the Delaware Chancery Court, alleging a violation of their non-compete agreement and intending to distance its former executive from the business by 12 months. Bristol-Myers also claims that Berman accepted BMS shares when he was promoted to vice-president of the immune-oncology team, reinforcing his commitment with the company.

BMS is especially worried about the AstraZeneca and Celgene collaboration to develop a PD-L1 inhibitor, which could compete directly with previously developed BMS compounds, according to the lawsuit. Berman’s position in AstraZeneca will predictably be similar to his role in BMS, and the Americans believe that it will be impossible for him to work without using confidential information he obtained working for BMS.

Bristol-Meyer Squibb is going to defend its work tooth and nail, although it might be a lost cause. Of course, the American company has all the chances to beat AstraZeneca and Berman in court, but its secrets might be already in possession of its British leading competitor.

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