Anirvan Ghosh, Unity Biotechnology CEO (Biogen via Facebook)

An­oth­er mi­cro­cap biotech plots ma­jor job cuts as in­dus­try sharp­ens its axe amid slow­down

Amid biotech’s ug­ly start to the year, you can bare­ly throw a stone with­out hit­ting a bad head­line. Now, an­oth­er mi­cro­cap firm is gut­ting its work­force to help keep the lights on.

Uni­ty Biotech­nol­o­gy will cut its work­force by 50% as it looks to pave its cash run­way out to 2023 with mid-stage da­ta on its lead eye drug still in the wind, the com­pa­ny said Thurs­day.

The cuts will pri­mar­i­ly hit the biotech’s Dis­cov­ery Re­search unit and will amount in to­tal to 34 jobs sliced away, Uni­ty said.

In a state­ment, CEO Anir­van Ghosh lament­ed the fir­ings while say­ing they were ul­ti­mate­ly in the best in­ter­est of the com­pa­ny’s fu­ture:

It was a dif­fi­cult but pru­dent de­ci­sion to align our re­sources around our oph­thal­mol­o­gy pro­grams and I be­lieve this sharp­ened fo­cus will pro­pel us for­ward to key mile­stones, in­clud­ing Phase 2 da­ta in­flec­tion points this year.

Uni­ty is ex­pect­ing two Phase II read­outs for lead drug UBX1325 in di­a­bet­ic mac­u­lar ede­ma and wet age-re­lat­ed mac­u­lar de­gen­er­a­tion by the end of the year, and the cash sav­ings from these cuts are ex­pect­ed to help it cross the fin­ish line. Uni­ty said the re­sults from those two stud­ies “could rep­re­sent a trans­for­ma­tive ther­a­peu­tic op­tion for pa­tients,” but they can’t de­ter­mine that with­out the fund­ing to fin­ish them.

Shares of $UBX, al­ready well in mi­cro­cap range, were down around 10% by the clos­ing bell.

Uni­ty’s un­for­tu­nate af­ter­noon comes amid a gen­er­al slow­down in small-to-mid cap biotech, with a grow­ing slate of mi­crofirms dump­ing staff as the pub­lic mar­kets turn sour.

Just this week, small cell ther­a­py play­er Gami­da an­nounced plans to ter­mi­nate 10% of its staff as part of an ef­fort to ex­tend its cash run­way for a planned fil­ing for cell ther­a­py omidu­bi­cel with the FDA. Gami­da is plan­ning to file a full sub­mis­sion for omidu­bi­cel, a next-gen­er­a­tion stem cell trans­plant prod­uct be­ing stud­ied in pa­tients with cer­tain blood can­cers, some­time in the first half of this year, the com­pa­ny said.

But hir­ing cuts haven’t been the on­ly trou­bling trend — biotech com­pa­nies in in­creas­ing num­bers have start­ed walk­ing on drug part­ner­ships in ef­forts to re­duce their own costs. For now, most of these cuts are hit­ting the in­dus­try’s small­est play­ers, but does that mean we’ll start see­ing the same at pro­gres­sive­ly larg­er firms if the bad sen­ti­ment con­tin­ues? We’ll have to wait and see.

Pfiz­er lays off em­ploy­ees at Cal­i­for­nia and Con­necti­cut sites

Pfizer has laid off employees at its La Jolla, CA, and Groton, CT sites, according to multiple LinkedIn posts from former employees.

The Big Pharma confirmed to Endpoints News it has let go of some employees, but a spokesperson declined to specify how many workers were impacted and the exact locations affected. Earlier this month, the drug developer had confirmed to Endpoints it was sharpening its focus and doing away with some early research on areas such as rare disease, oncology and gene therapies.

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.

Late Fri­day ap­proval; Trio of biotechs wind down; Stem cell pi­o­neer finds new fron­tier; Biotech icon to re­tire; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

I hope your weekend is off to a nice start, wherever you are reading this email. As for me, I’m trying to catch the tail of the Lunar New Year festivities.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 157,500+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Jake Van Naarden, Loxo@Lilly CEO

Lil­ly en­ters ripe BTK field with quick FDA nod in man­tle cell lym­phoma

Eli Lilly has succeeded in its attempt to get the first non-covalent version of Bruton’s tyrosine kinase, or BTK, inhibitors to market, pushing it past rival Merck.

The FDA gave an accelerated nod to Lilly’s daily oral med, to be sold as Jaypirca, for patients with relapsed or refractory mantle cell lymphoma.

The agency’s green light, disclosed by the Indianapolis Big Pharma on Friday afternoon, catapults Lilly into a field dominated by covalent BTK inhibitors, which includes AbbVie and Johnson & Johnson’s Imbruvica, AstraZeneca’s Calquence and BeiGene’s Brukinsa.

Dutch biotech starts liq­ui­da­tion af­ter end­ing PhI­II in GVHD

A 13-year-old Dutch biotech is going through a liquidation process after an unexpected end to its Phase III trial testing whether its combination of two monoclonal antibodies was superior to Incyte’s Jakafi.

Xenikos had hoped to prove its investigational therapy, named T-Guard, was better than Jakafi at garnering a complete response in patients experiencing life-threatening complications in which new cells from a hematopoietic stem cell transplant begin to fight the body. Jakafi was approved for the indication, steroid-refractory acute graft-versus-host disease, in May 2019.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 157,500+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

No­var­tis' ap­proved sick­le cell dis­ease drug fails to beat place­bo in PhI­II

Novartis’ sickle cell drug, approved in 2019 and branded as Adakveo, has failed an ongoing Phase III, according to preliminary results.

The Swiss pharma giant unveiled early data from the ongoing STAND Phase III study on Friday, saying that crizanlizumab showed no statistically significant difference between the drug at two different dose levels compared to placebo in annualized rates of vaso-occlusive crises that lead to a healthcare visit over the first year since being randomized into the trial.

Tony Johnson, Goldfinch Bio CEO (Goldfinch via YouTube)

Kid­ney dis­ease drug­mak­er Goldfinch Bio shuts down

Goldfinch Bio, attempting to make treatments for kidney diseases and diabetic nephropathy, is shutting down.

President and CEO Tony Johnson confirmed to Endpoints News Friday afternoon that the biotech shut down after “fundraising challenges in the current macro-environment.” Fierce Biotech first reported the news.

Johnson, who joined in 2017 after a stint as SVP of early clinical development at AstraZeneca, said in a text that the company “entered the ABC process recently,” referring to an assignment for the benefit of the creditors, which provides a different wind-down avenue than a bankruptcy.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 157,500+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Filip Dubovsky, Novavax CMO

No­vavax gets ready to take an­oth­er shot at Covid vac­cine mar­ket with next sea­son plans

While mRNA took center stage at yesterday’s FDA vaccine advisory committee meeting, Novavax announced its plans to deliver an updated protein-based vaccine based on new guidance.

Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) members voted unanimously in favor of “harmonizing” Covid vaccine compositions, meaning all future vaccine recipients would receive a bivalent vaccine, regardless of whether they’ve gotten their primary series.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 157,500+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

FDA ap­proves an­oth­er in­di­ca­tion for Keytru­da, this time in the ad­ju­vant NSCLC set­ting

Merck’s blockbuster cancer treatment Keytruda has been handed another indication by the FDA.

The US regulator announced on Thursday that it has approved Keytruda to serve as an adjuvant treatment for non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), which is its fifth indication in NSCLC and 34th indication overall.

According to a Merck release, the approval is based on data from a Phase III trial, dubbed Keynote-091, which measured disease-free survival in patients who received chemotherapy following surgery. The data from Merck displayed that Keytruda cut down on the risk of disease recurrence or death by 27% versus placebo.

Ying Huang, Legend CEO

J&J, Leg­end say Carvyk­ti beat stan­dard ther­a­py in ear­li­er-line blood can­cer

J&J and Legend Biotech’s next step in turning their CAR-T therapy Carvykti into a potential megablockbuster has succeeded, the companies said Friday.

Carvykti achieved the primary endpoint — progression-free survival — in an open-label Phase III study testing the treatment in second- to fourth-line multiple myeloma patients. The CARTITUDE-4 trial, for which there aren’t any hard data yet, represents the biggest development for Carvykti’s ability to compete with Bristol Myers Squibb’s Abecma since its approval last February.