Drug Development

Abandoned in PhIII, Onconova sacrifices more staffers to its survival strategy

Last spring, before Baxalta merged with Shire, the biotech opted to ax its 2012 partnership with Onconova Therapeutics $ONTX on the late-stage blood cancer drug rigosertib, with a formal closeout scheduled on Tuesday that officially ended its 50/50 split on the costs of a Phase III study that launched near the end of 2015. And Onconova marked the occasion by axing six staffers — 21% of its core group — as the executive crew continued to navigate a go-it-alone strategy through Phase III.

The restructuring, not its first, was spelled out in an SEC filing. It follows a $17.4 million raise in July that helped the Newton, PA-based company come back into compliance with Nasdaq listing rules. But it still has a long way to go on its own, with a market cap that has now dwindled to $21 million and a stock that trades at just a fraction of its $15 IPO price.

The Phase III failure of rigosertib in 2014 for high-risk myelodysplastic syndromes marked Onconova’s second big clinical setback on the drug. Its stock was hammered, but the biotech stoutly insisted that a subset of patients benefited, marking a path pointed back into the clinic. And CEO Ramesh Kumar was sorely disappointed by Baxalta’s decision to abruptly leave the pact in March, scolding it for abandoning patients three months into the study.

The company had $27.6 million in cash on hand at the end of H1 after spending $16.7 million. According to clinicaltrials.gov, its estimated primary completion date for the ongoing Phase III is June, 2018.


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