- Ionis Pharmaceuticals will lay off nearly 70% of the workforce at Akcea Therapeutics, the spinout it formed in 2014 to market some of its medicines but then acquired and folded back in last year.
- The job cuts, disclosed in a regulatory filing on Tuesday, are part of a reorganization plan Ionis is carrying out alongside an expanded commercialization deal with Swedish firm Sobi. The Swedish firm in December agreed to help distribute Akcea's rare disease drugs Tegsedi and Waylivra in Europe. Sobi will now do so for Tegsedi in North America as well.
- Ionis said it is reorganizing Akcea to "better align with its business" and "focus on high priority programs," such as an experimental, second-generation treatment for transthyretin amyloidosis, the condition Tegsedi treats. The layoffs primarily involve positions related to Tegsedi in the U.S. and Canada.
It's not unusual for layoffs to follow an acquisition, as a buyer looks for ways to cut costs while bringing a new business into the fold. It's also a common practice for Ionis, which built its business off of research partnerships and commercialization deals, to enlist another company to sell its drugs.
But the job cuts at Akcea mark the reversal of what had been an unusual experiment by Ionis to have a subsidiary, not a partner, market its products instead.
Ionis hatched Akcea in 2014 to help sell a growing list of drugs that were approaching regulatory decisions — specifically a group of treatments the biotech was then developing for rare lipid disorders. Akcea raised $144 million through an initial public offering in 2017, and within two years had gotten two products to market: Waylivra, for a uncommon metabolic disease; and Tegsedi, for the genetic disease transthyretin amyloidosis.
But Akcea struggled to get Waylivra approved in the U.S. and only generated modest sales from both drugs. Sales of the two totaled $42 million combined in 2019, the last full year of Akcea's independence, and climbed to $70 million in 2020 as they were launched in additional countries, according to a regulatory filing.
By comparison, Onpattro, a rival therapy to Tegsedi, generated $306 million for its developer, Alnylam Pharmaceuticals.
In recent years, Akcea's been dealing with even more market competition as well as the departure of multiple executives. Akcea shares, worth $8 when the company went public in 2017, traded at less than $12 apiece when Ionis changed course in August and cut a deal to acquire the 24% stake it didn't own.
At the time, Ionis CEO Brett Monia said the deal created a "stronger, more efficient organization," allowing the company to keep more of the value from its programs. And it's since tapped Sobi to help distribute Akcea's drugs.
But that now means a vastly reduced workforce for Akcea, which had roughly 300 employees last year, according to a regulatory filing.
Ionis will incur a roughly $11 million to $14 million restructuring charge.