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Bristol to stop early research in three disease areas

Thursday, 7 Nov 2013 | 6:47 PM ET

Nov 7 (Reuters) - Bristol-Myers Squibb Co said on Thursday that it would no longer conduct research to discover new drugs for hepatitis C, diabetes and neuroscience, but will increase spending on medicines that harness the immune system to fight cancer.

Company spokeswoman Laura Hortas said the shift in its research and development focus was "slight" and not geared toward cost cuts. But she said 70 to 75 R&D positions will be eliminated, or less than 1 percent of its research workforce.

The company, in an emailed statement, said it will continue with all ongoing late-stage trials of its medicines, including treatments for hepatitis C, and with trials exploring new potential uses of its drugs that are already on the market.

Hortas said early-stage trials of some neuroscience drugs might be scrapped, although Bristol-Myers will continue with one such trial involving the treatment of Alzheimer's disease.

Otherwise, she said ongoing early-stage and mid-stage trials of its many medicines will continue as planned.

The company said it will continue to conduct discovery research, meaning the earliest stages of research before drugs are tested in people, to find new treatments for HIV, hepatitis B, heart failure, oncology, immunoscience and fibrotic diseases.

"We are focusing our R&D organization on delivering the opportunities where the value is greatest to patients," Francis Cuss, Bristol-Myers' chief scientific officer said.

Bristol-Myers is considered a leader in the field of immuno-oncology, in which drugs are used to unlock the immune system to go after cancer cells. Its approved Yervoy treatment for melanoma has provided durable benefits to patients, and the company aims to eventually pair the drug with other therapies that also harness the immune system.

Rival drugmakers are also racing to develop immuno-oncology medicines, which industry analysts expect to garner eventual combined annual sales of up to $50 billion.