Polyphor mulls future after PhIII cancer program crashes
In 2018, Polyphor raised an $165 million IPO — a princely sum at the time — largely on the strength of two programs: a new type of antibiotic with promise against drug-resistant bacteria and an immune-modulating molecule for breast cancer.
Three years later, those two programs are no more and Polyphor is mulling its future. The Swiss biotech announced Monday that its cancer treatment, balixafortide, failed in a Phase III trial for HER2-negative breast cancer. On the two key endpoints, response rate and clinical benefit, standard-of-care actually outperformed Polyphor’s drug.
The whiff knocks out the biotech’s last late-stage program, after their lead antibiotic proved too toxic to commercialize in 2019. In a statement, Polyphor said the board of directors is now “undergoing a strategic assessment regarding the future of the company.”
“All options” are on the table, the company said. They’ll provide an update sometime before August. Shares, already trading at a fifth of their IPO levels, were cut in half, from CHF $7.35 to CHF $3.25.
In theory, Polyphor has assets that could prove attractive in a sale or some type of larger deal. Although its lead antibiotic failed, the company has since won multiple awards from CARB-X, the Boston University initiative to fund drugs that can combat antibiotic resistance. They’re working on successor molecules and inhaled antibiotics for patients with cystic fibrosis.
That work, however, remains entirely preclinical and, because of a broken incentive and reimbursement system, antibiotic development has not proven to be a successful business over the last decade. Even companies that successfully brought drugs to market, such as Melinta and Achaogen, have gone under, as sales failed to materialize.
Yet a handful of investors remain interested in the space, betting that lawmakers in the US and Europe will eventually set up new funding models that will make powerful antibiotics lucrative again. Deerfield won a bidding war to acquire Melinta after it declared bankruptcy and billionaire biotech executive Bob Duggan swooped in to take control of Summit Therapeutics. Perhaps Polyphor will find a champion, or at least a home for its assets, as well.