Astel­las is shut­ter­ing Agen­sys, ax­ing 220 jobs and mov­ing away from ADC tech

Wataru Uchi­da, Astel­las

A decade ago Agen­sys’ an­ti­body work looked so ap­peal­ing that Astel­las hap­pi­ly paid $387 mil­lion in cash for it, re­serv­ing $150 mil­lion more in mile­stones. To­day, though, the Japan­ese phar­ma com­pa­ny says it is shut­ting down the op­er­a­tion in San­ta Mon­i­ca, CA and mov­ing on from an­ti­body-drug con­ju­ga­tions, lay­ing off all of the 220 staffers — un­less they can land an­oth­er job in the com­pa­ny.

Astel­las made it clear that while the com­pa­ny is con­tin­u­ing to use some of the ADC tech and test drugs tak­en from the ac­qui­si­tion, it’s look­ing to oth­er tech­nolo­gies for R&D.

In a state­ment to End­points News, the com­pa­ny said:

Astel­las is re­fin­ing its on­col­o­gy strat­e­gy by ex­pand­ing its in­vest­ment in the re­search of new tech­nolo­gies and modal­i­ties, such as im­muno-on­col­o­gy (I/O), and re­duc­ing its fo­cus on ADC re­search. The com­pa­ny be­lieves I/O is a ma­jor area for in­no­va­tion. Agen­sys op­er­a­tions, which have been pri­mar­i­ly fo­cused on re­search and dis­cov­ery of AD­Cs, are not aligned to this strate­gic shift in our fo­cus, thus we have de­cid­ed to wind-down re­search op­er­a­tion at the fa­cil­i­ty. The wind-down ac­tiv­i­ties be­gan on Ju­ly 26 and will be com­plet­ed in the first quar­ter of cal­en­dar year 2018.

There are ap­prox­i­mate­ly 220 em­ploy­ees at Agen­sys. We will be re­tain­ing no em­ploy­ees past Feb­ru­ary 2018 un­less they ap­ply for and re­ceive a po­si­tion in oth­er parts of the com­pa­ny. Cer­tain em­ploy­ees es­sen­tial to the wind-down process will be re­tained through first quar­ter 2018.

“Agen­sys has pos­i­tive­ly con­tributed to Astel­las’ ob­jec­tive of de­vel­op­ing in­no­v­a­tive treat­ments for pa­tients with can­cer,” said Wataru Uchi­da, se­nior vice pres­i­dent, Astel­las. “The team has pro­vid­ed post-Proof of Con­cept com­pounds and an­ti­body-re­lat­ed tech­nol­o­gy that have been in­cor­po­rat­ed in­to our promis­ing on­col­o­gy pipeline. Yet, the field of re­search has evolved and led to a new fron­tier of treat­ment op­tions. Ex­pand­ing our in­vest­ment in this new area of re­search and de­vel­op­ment will be crit­i­cal­ly im­por­tant and help us to bet­ter ad­dress high un­met med­ical needs, as well as de­liv­er in­no­v­a­tive ben­e­fits to pa­tients in the fight against many types of can­cers.”

Pi­o­neer­ing Click Chem­istry in Hu­mans

Reimagining cancer treatments

Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for nearly 10 million deaths in 2020, which is nearly one in six deaths. Recently, we have seen incredible advances in novel cancer therapies such as immune checkpoint inhibitors, cell therapies, and antibody-drug conjugates that have revamped cancer care and improved survival rates for patients.

Despite this significant progress in therapeutic targeting, why are we still seeing such a high mortality rate? The reason is that promising therapies are often limited by their therapeutic index, which is a measure of the effective dose of a drug, relative to its safety. If we could broaden the therapeutic indices of currently available medicines, it would revolutionize cancer treatments. We are still on the quest to find the ultimate cancer medicine – highly effective in several cancer types, safe, and precisely targeted to the tumor site.

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