- A Dallas-based gene therapy developer with a lengthy list of research projects has decided to prioritize two moving forward and, in doing so, will reduce its workforce by approximately 35%, joining a series of other companies in the space that have turned to layoffs in recent months.
- Taysha Gene Therapies officially debuted almost two years ago as a spinout of the University of Texas-Southwestern. Helmed by R.A. Session II, who led corporate strategy and business development at AveXis before its $8.7 billion sale to Novartis, Taysha quickly drew interest from investors and went public just five months after launching. The company had 178 employees at the end of 2021.
- When it launched, Taysha had ambitious plans to advance at least 15 projects and bring a new product to market every few years. Now, it intends to focus its research efforts on giant axonal neuropathy and Rett Syndrome, uncommon diseases that, according to Taysha, respectively affect 5,000 and 350,000 people worldwide. The company said it still intends to continue developing three other programs for different rare disorders.
Gene therapy holds great promise, with the potential to effectively cure an array of diseases. Already, the Food and Drug Administration has approved two of these medicines, Roche's Luxturna and Novartis' Zolgensma, the latter of which was developed at AveXis. Yet, as with most cutting-edge technologies, there have been challenges, among them that gene therapies can be costly to develop and are difficult to manufacture.
For young companies like Taysha, these challenges were eased by easy access to money. The last few years had seen the biotechnology sector flushed with record amounts of capital from venture firms and the public markets. Taysha, notably, priced shares at the top end of the company's estimated range when it went public in September 2020, raising $157 million in the process.
But investor sentiment toward biotechnology companies, which reached new heights in the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, has worsened substantially in recent months. While the downtown has affected drugmakers in all areas of research, it's been hard on those developing gene therapies. In addition to Taysha, at least ten other gene therapy developers have announced layoffs, cost cuts or restructured programs since December.
Taysha's current priorities are to advance one program targeting Rett syndrome, which is in preclinical testing, and another focused on giant axonal neuropathy, which is currently in an early-stage study that should produce results later this year. The company noted, too, that it expects to hit milestones this year in programs for two types of Batten disease and a rare form of infantile epilepsy.
But elsewhere, Taysha is cutting back. A small trial testing one of its therapies against Tay-Sachs disease will stop enrollment, for example, though patients who were previously dosed will continue to be followed.
"To increase operational efficiency, activities for other ongoing clinical programs will be minimized and all additional research and development will be paused," Session said in a statement Thursday.
Taysha announced the layoffs and strategic changes alongside fourth quarter and full-year earnings. The company spent $132 million on research and development last year, and ultimately tallied a $173 million loss from operations. Session said that, with existing cash, debt financing and the newly implemented strategy, Taysha should have enough money to operate into the fourth quarter of 2023.
Taysha shares were up as much as about 3% Friday morning, before dipping down to near $6.50 apiece.