Axing staff and shelving cancer programs, Selecta hopes laser focus on gout will prove a way out
As Werner Cautreels completes his retirement form Selecta Biosciences, new CEO Carsten Brunn is left on his own to start the year off with an unenviable charge: Execute a revamp that will claim 36% of the company’s workforce.
The layoffs will mainly hit the biotech’s oncology team, which slammed the brakes on a Phase I study of SEL-403 in the wake of a patient death and later a clinical hold. That drug, alongside the whole cancer pipeline, will now be “deprioritized” in favor of its lead drug, SEL-212 for chronic refractory gout.
The news triggered a 21% plunge for Selecta’s stock $SELB, which never recovered from a precipitous fall last October when it halted the cancer study.
Now at the tail end of Phase II, SEL-212 combines Selecta’s signature nanoparticle designed to blunt unwanted immune responses with pegadricase, a pegylated formulation of the enzyme uricase.
Next, the company wants to go head-to-head with Krystexxa, an FDA-approved therapy marketed by Horizon Pharma, hoping to show that its drug is superior in lowering uric acid for gout patients. The trial is slated to begin this quarter, ideally with a Phase III to follow right when the results come in at the end of the year.
Meanwhile, CEO Brunn will also steer the remaining team — in collaboration with the European research group CureCN — into preclinical toxicology studies for a combination of Selecta’s immune tolerance platform with AAV gene therapy, prepping for clinical entry within the year.
That’s all in the plans laid out back when the biotech launched out of the labs of MIT investigator Robert Langer, Omid Farokhzad and Ulrich von Andrian of the Harvard Medical School. But the initial potential in using the platform tech to guide an immune attack now seems out the window.
“We intend to focus on executing our strategic priorities, advancing our ImmTOR platform, and growing our strategic partnerships,” Brunn said in a statement. “The restructuring was a difficult decision and I want to personally thank all those who are affected for all their contributions to Selecta.”