- Gene therapy developer Solid Biosciences is laying off 35% of its employees, announcing Wednesday a plan to extend its current funds for another two years as a sector-wide downturn limits financing options. The company also intends to narrow the focus of its research and development efforts to just two gene therapy projects and next-generation delivery technologies.
- Along with the layoffs and strategic shift, Solid announced the departure at the end of May of Chief Operating Officer Joel Schneider, who will be joining a privately held gene therapy company.
- Solid, which had 104 employees as of Dec. 31, becomes the latest biotech to trim its workforce, a trend that has been most notable among gene therapy developers. Two years ago, Solid announced a reduction of similar scale, when it laid off around 37 of its 111 employees as it sought to restart clinical work for its gene therapy for Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
Solid has been in a hard-fought race with Sarepta and Pfizer to launch the first gene therapy to treat Duchenne. All of the companies have had their setbacks, ranging from safety-related issues for Solid and Pfizer's projects to disappointing early efficacy results for Sarepta's.
In spite of the slow progress, Solid was able to sustain itself with a $144 million share offering at a price of $5.75 per share in March 2021, a point at which a closely-watched biotech stock index called XBI was near an all-time high. That broad measure has dropped by nearly half since, while Solid's share price has plummeted to just 75 cents, as investor enthusiasm for biotech and gene therapy in particular has cooled.
At its depressed share price, Solid will be limited in its ability to sell more stock in order to build up cash stores, which amounted to $180 million when counting short-term investments. The company spent $86 million in 2021 and $28 million in the first quarter, leaving around 18 months to two years of cash.
With the layoffs, Solid's executives said they will be able to sustain the company through mid-2024, by which time they expect to have key data for its lead Duchenne project, called SGT-001. Its early-stage trial has completed enrollment, and dosing will continue through 2023.
In the meantime, the company is transitioning to an outsourced commercial scale manufacturing process for SGT-001, an important moment in gene therapy development as the products from that process must have similar characteristics to the laboratory-scale production used in early clinical work.
The strategic realignment also will allow Solid to devote resources to a second Duchenne project that uses a different viral protein shell to deliver the corrective genes into cells. Based on pre-clinical data, executives believe the new therapy will be better at delivering the genes into muscle cells, where they will be most effective.