Amira Pharmaceuticals, a San Diego-based biotechnology company focused on treatments for asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other inflammatory conditions, will be acquired by publicly held Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. in an all-cash deal worth as much as $475 million.

Bristol-Myers, based in New York, said the deal is part of its “String of Pearls” strategy, which calls for a targeted set of transactions focused on potential medicines that fill a void in current treatment options. Amira’s therapy for fibrotic diseases falls into that category, said Elliott Sigal, who serves as executive vice president, chief scientific officer and president of research and development for Bristol-Myers.

The lead asset in Amira’s fibrosis program is a drug called AM152, which has completed Phase 1 clinical studies and is ready for additional studies for the treatment of scleroderma and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a deadly buildup of tissue deep in the lungs that can lead to respiratory failure. The deal also includes Amira’s preclinical autotaxin program for neuropathic pain and cancer metastases. Both programs “are world leading and will be in excellent hands,” Amira CEO Bob Baltera said in a July 21 statement.

Bristol-Myers will purchase all of Amira’s issued and outstanding shares of capital stock and stock equivalents for $325 million upfront, and pay as much as $150 million as future milestones are reached. The deal is subject to regulatory approvals.

Amira’s history began in 2005 after Merck & Co. Inc. withdrew its research laboratories from San Diego. Some of Merck’s top scientists — including those who worked on blockbuster drugs Singulair for asthma and Vioxx for arthritis — stuck together to form the privately held company.

Located in the Mira Mesa area, Amira has 25 employees. Bristol-Myers will retain the scientists who work on both of the acquired programs and keep them in San Diego. A company spokesman was not able to say how many scientists work on the programs or what the future holds for remaining workers.

— Kelly Quigley