- Imara is the latest biotech to cut jobs this year, revealing on Friday plans to lay off 83% of its workforce after disappointing clinical results led the company to shelve its top drug candidate.
- Imara was developing a medicine known as tovinontrine for the blood diseases sickle cell disease and beta thalassemia as well as a type of heart failure. However, Imara decided earlier this month to stop development in all three indications after the drug didn't meaningfully benefit patients in two Phase 2 studies.
- According to a regulatory filing, all but six Imara employees will be laid off by the end of the second quarter while the company evaluates its strategic options. Imara had 41 full-time employees, 29 of whom worked in research and development, at the end of 2021.
The product of a rare disease drug "accelerator" hatched by venture firm New Enterprise Associates, Imara joins a growing list of biotechs to recently cut jobs or restructure their operations.
According to a recent analysis from LifeSciVC, a blog run by Atlas Venture partner Bruce Booth, more than three dozen publicly traded biotechs have announced layoffs since last fall. Some of the reasons for those job cuts are company-specific: Imara's medicine, for instance, didn't show enough promise in early testing to justify further investment. Other biotechs, like Kaleido Biosciences, Akebia Therapeutics and Yumanity Therapeutics, also scaled down their workforces after suffering clinical or regulatory setbacks.
But a public market downturn has put pressure on others, as plummeting stock prices have made it harder for biotechs to raise money to fund their development plans and forced them to reduce expenses instead. Dozens of biotech companies are trading at or below their cash balance, according to a recent analysis by Jefferies. Even large companies, like Novartis, Merck & Co. and Gilead, are reducing headcounts.
For Imara, the decision marks the end of a journey that began six years ago, when Imara was formed by an orphan drug development entity known as Cydan Development. NEA, a prominent life sciences investor, put Cydan together in 2013 to find possible rare disease drug candidates shelved by other companies, funnel them into startups, and push them forward with the help of a small team of experts.
The plan led to the creation of Vtesse, which was formed around a medicine Cydan licensed from the National Institutes of Health, and then Imara, whose drug Cydan bought from Danish firm Lundbeck. Both companies paid off for NEA and Cydan's other investors. Mallinckrodt bought Vtesse for about $200 million in 2017, and Imara raised $75 million in an IPO in 2020.
The two drugs those companies were based on didn't succeed, however. Mallinckrodt discontinued development of what was once known as VTS-270 after it failed a trial in Niemann-Pick disease, and sold the drug in a bankruptcy proceeding. Imara's IMR-687 couldn't meaningfully reduce the need for blood transfusions in beta thalassemia patients, or the number of painful episodes that occur when malformed blood cells clog the blood vessels of sickle cell patients. (A third Cydan company, Tiburio Therapeutics, launched in 2019 to develop a drug for tumors and endocrine diseases. But its founding CEO is now an executive elsewhere, and Tiburio no longer has a website.)
Imara shares, worth as much as $47 apiece in June 2020, now trade at about $1 apiece.