ImClone Systems and Bristol-Myers Squibb have expanded their alliance to explore further development and commercial opportunities in North America for the oncology agent Erbitux.

The amended agreement will see investment in the drug increase by “up to several hundred million dollars” with B-MS taking sole responsibility for development costs, up to an undisclosed threshold value. After that level has been reached, the costs will be shared by both companies “according to a pre-determined ratio”.

The plan is to seek to add numerous Phase II and Phase III clinical trials that will further explore the activity of Erbitux (cetuximab) “in a wide variety of therapeutic settings”. The companies claimed that this “comprehensive clinical programme will supplement the significant body of clinical data” existing for Erbitux in its approved indications of colorectal and head and neck cancers and will look at other tumour types, including brain, breast, bladder, gastric, lung, pancreas and prostate.

Elliott Sigal, chief scientific officer and president of R&D at B-MS, said that by broadening the development programme and “utilising pharmacogenomic markers and other screening technologies, we intend to enhance cancer patient outcomes which may further differentiate Erbitux from other commercially available antibodies". Chief executive Jim Cornelius added that the deal “confirms our strong commitment to oncology patients and the importance of Erbitux to our business”.

The deal would appear to represent a great bit of business for ImClone given that B-MS will be forking out the lion’s share for the clinical trials. It also represents a feather in the cap of Carl Icahn, the billionaire investor who took over as chairman at the end of last year, having ousted the previous management after accusing it of not making the most of Erbitux. He said: “I am happy that B-MS and ImClone have come to this very amicable agreement which I have every hope should benefit greatly both parties."