Polyphor axes staff as cash and options dwindle
Polyphor’s restructuring is beginning.
The Swiss biotech, once a darling of the country’s public markets, announced that it was laying off “up to” 29 employees after its Phase III trial for its lead cancer drug failed last month. It’s not clear how many employees the company currently has on staff.
The layoffs are just one step in a broader effort by the board to save what’s left of the struggling company. In a release, they said the board “continues its strategic assessment” of the biotech’s options, with plans for an update before July. It’s not simply a self-imposed deadline; Polyphor revealed in their annual financial statement in March that they only had enough cash to last through Q3 of 2021.
Polyphor has assets that could prove medically relevant, although not necessarily commercially viable. They raised $165 million in a 2018 IPO off the promise of their lead antibiotic for drug-resistant bacteria and an immune-modulating drug in breast cancer. But the lead antibiotic was scrapped over safety concerns in 2019, and in June, the cancer drug appeared effectively worse than placebo.
While the cancer program appears dead — Polyphor said they’ll continue analyzing the data but won’t seek approval off of the Phase III trial — the company has continued to develop new antibiotics. While still early, those programs have received attention and grant money from the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and the US government-backed non-profit CARB-X.
The problem is that, with a couple of exceptions, investors and pharma companies aren’t much interested in funding novel antibiotics anymore, at least until governments change the broken system by which such drugs get paid for. And unlike Melinta or Tetraphase, antibiotic companies recently bailed out or bought by Deerfield, all of Polyphor’s efforts are still preclinical.
It’s unclear yet how investors will view the company, or how much larger companies would be willing to pay for the individual programs.
Social image: Gokhan Batur, Polyphor CEO