Bellicum slashes 79% of staffers after early data quash hope around next-gen CAR-T
Bellicum Pharmaceuticals tried to make it work.
Over the past months the Houston-based CAR-T player sold its manufacturing facility to MD Anderson — transferring 35 employees in the process — in favor of an outsourced arrangement and completed a reverse stock split, while dribbling out new data and getting an IND cleared.
But new interim data from a Phase I/II trial provided the last straw. Bellicum disclosed late Thursday that it will be laying off 79% of its staff, shaving the workforce from 68 to just 14 by the end of 2020.
Shares $BLCM of Bellicum, which has been battling a downward trend for years, are down 31.86% pre-market to $4.02.
With the BCMA GoCAR-NK program on pause and discovery research chopped alongside new product development, the remaining team will stay laser-focused on the three programs already in the clinic: BPX-501, or rivo-cel, the lead program; BPX-601, its first product generated from the GoCAR-T platform targeting PCSA; and BPX-603, which is targeting HER2+ solid tumors.
Then there’s the $35 million debt plus fees and interest that it’s still paying down Oxford Finance — $27.4 million of which is due Friday.
The results that Bellicum just reported came from four patients with relapsed/refractory metastatic pancreatic cancer who received BPX-601 followed by repeat dosing of rimiducid, which are designed to activate CAR-T cells.
“Clinically meaningful efficacy as measured by RECIST criteria was not observed,” the company stated plainly. Investigators documented the overall response as three stable diseases and one progressive disease.
CEO Rick Fair, though, remains encouraged by what they saw on the safety front as well as GoCAR-T cell activation, proliferation and persistence.
He will wait for the completion of the current safety cohort to review the plans in pancreatic cancer, while Bellicum goes ahead and enrolls a new metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer group into the trial.
Safety, as longtime observers of Bellicum would recall, was a key concern with BPX-501. Brain damage linked to the cell therapy forced the FDA to slam a hold on the clinical trial back in 2018. And although the company managed to get the hold lifted after protocol adjustment, it is now seeking a partner to help push the program through the last stage of development in blood cancer and inherited blood disorders.
For BPX-603, a dual-switch GoCAR-T candidate, the plan is to start the first human study by the end of the year.
“We have concluded that Bellicum must reduce spending on preclinical programs and shift its resources to enable achievement of meaningful milestones in the clinic,” Fair added.