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Bristol Myers M&A strategy leader enters 2021 with 'stronger sense of urgency'

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Bristol Myers Squibb Executive Vice President of Strategy & Business Development Elizabeth Mily

Source: Bristol Myers Squibb

➤ Bristol Myers Squibb plans to continue investing in biotech innovation to build the company's research engine and product portfolio around existing therapeutic areas.

➤ The acquisition of MyoKardia in 2020 was important to expand Bristol Myers' reach in cardiovascular, while smaller transactions will bolster the company's place in cancer.

➤ A background in investment banking can drive a business development strategy that fosters creativity in dealmaking.

Elizabeth Mily joined Bristol Myers Squibb Co. as executive vice president of strategy and business development in March 2020 after 27 years in investment banking. Mily spoke to S&P Global Market Intelligence ahead of the 2021 J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference beginning Jan. 11 about the company's plans for future M&A and partnerships.

S&P Global Market Intelligence: What would you say are the most prominent business development plans for Bristol Myers in 2021?

Elizabeth Mily: What's important is that we remain committed to investing across our entire pipeline and our entire portfolio to bring innovation forward, and 2021 will be no different than the years prior. I would say we have a stronger sense of urgency than we've ever had as we think about not only advancing our own pipeline and furthering indications from some of our leading products, but to bringing innovation into the company. We just don't believe it can all happen internally.

How do you make that leap from early science to investment opportunity?

The reality is that all of our partnerships are forged on the basis of cutting-edge science, and it's something that we're extremely focused on as a company. As we're looking at companies, whether we're collaborating with them on the research side or in-licensing assets or seeking to potentially acquire them, we're always being driven by the scientific potential. Across each of our therapeutic areas, we're continually looking at what is out there in the landscape of opportunity that would enable us to further enhance our position.

For a company like Bristol Myers, it helps to diversify the product portfolio, but it also helps to specialize and bring the most value out of your different business units. How do you find the right balance there?

I would fully agree with that and it's something we spend a lot of time thinking about as a company. What I would say is that we continue to be, we think, very focused in terms of our therapeutic areas and wanting to be a real leader within those areas, but we're also expanding within those areas where we see an opportunity to tap into real innovation and a medical need.

Earlier this summer, a partnership with Dragonfly Therapeutics Inc. and the acquisition of Forbius were two very important transactions to support our solid tumor oncology business, and we think they both were opportunities to gain first-in-class, best-in-class programs that would really enable us to continue to broaden and deepen our oncology leadership position. I think it would be unlikely you'll see us straying far from where we are; that's not our strategy. We've tried to be quite disciplined and stay quite focused.

Thinking of Bristol Myers' large transactions with Celgene and MyoKardia, how does a company manage to keep the momentum from deal to deal?

We're continually looking and we've got a strong collaboration that's led from the science side of the house working very closely with our commercial and our business development teams. We ultimately, in some instances, are going to strike with something that's a larger acquisition like that of MyoKardia, but that comes on the back of a long-term focus on potential partnering and the valuation of the science. We're not just hunting for deals, because that's not what we do — we're incredibly focused on the therapeutic areas and where we see gaps in care. We're one of the long-standing cardiovascular players and it's a core franchise for us, and we were especially drawn to MyoKardia given their really innovative discovery and development focus in precision cardiovascular therapies. We let the deal scope and size take shape after we've evaluated the scientific opportunity.

How has your background in investment banking shaped the way you approach M&A from the business side at Bristol Myers?

Probably one of the core things that I bring to the table is, how do I really get to the right outcome that furthers not only the Bristol Myers objectives but also is something that works for the other side? As a banker, you're always very outcomes-driven and figuring out how you can get to a win-win situation. I think that fits very well with our partnering position and what we're trying to do in terms of really creating great partnerships with our counter-parties such that we'll hopefully be working with them on future partnerships. We can be creative, we can be flexible, and we can think about new ways to do things.