Agenus trims staff, narrows focus in restructuring
- Agenus Inc., a Lexington, MA-based biotech, on Thursday announced a company-wide restructuring aimed at narrowing the company's focus to development of two checkpoint inhibitors and its cancer vaccines program.
- As a result, Agenus will shutter its facilities in Basel, Switzerland, trim 50 jobs across the company and consolidate "key functions" into its Cambridge, UK and Lexington sites to streamline R&D operations.
- Earlier this year, the biotech modified its partnership with Incyte Corp., converting a profit and cost-sharing arrangement on two antibody programs into a royalty agreement, should the candidates ever each the market. In return, Incyte accelerated a $20 million milestone payment and invested $60 million in Agenus stock.
Agenus will be pivoting to focus on two of the hottest targets in immuno-oncology: CTLA-4 and PD-1.
In a presentation sketching out the company's five-year plan, Agenus said it will prioritize anti-PD-1 and anti-CTLA-4 combinations, as well as a neoantigen cancer vaccine known as AutoSynVax that is currently in clinical testing.
Amending the agreement with Incyte also gave Agenus a cash infusion of $80 million while simultaneously cutting down on clinical development expenses that Agenus was on the hook for as part of the original agreement to co-fund development.
The switch means Agenus loses out on the chance to share profits on the partnered programs, GITR and OX40 agonists, should they win approval.
But with the additional resources, Agenus plans an ambitious march to registration for the CTLA-4 and PD-1 targeting programs, hoping to file a combination of the two in the U.S. by mid-year 2020.
Less emphasized in the reshuffling is Agenus' Prophage mid-stage candidate in gliobastoma. Last month, the biotech acknowledged in a tersely worded filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission the failure of a third-party Phase 2 trial of Prophage paired with bevacizumab in surgically resectable recurrent gliobastoma.
Further work on that study was halted, although Prophage appears to remain in Agenus' plans for newly-diagnosed gliobastoma.
Dr. Robert Stein, the head of R&D, will step down from his current role to become a senior adviser as part of the streamlining process.
From a manufacturing standpoint, the restructuring places more importance of Agenus' production site in Berkeley, CA. Agenus acquired the antibody manufacturing plant from XOMA Corp in December 2015 and Agenus has since refurbished the facility.
"Substantial focus will also be placed on the company's manufacturing operations in Berkeley, CA to ensure GMP readiness," Agenus said in a statement on the impact of the restructuring.
Markets appeared relatively unmoved by the announcement, pushing Agenus stock lower by about 2%, but remains on solid footing following a recent high from last September.
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