Rigel Pharmaceuticals said today it will eliminate 30 positions—about 18% of its workforce—as part of a restructuring that will refocus the company on completing its three lead clinical programs.

The layoffs follow the failure of two clinical programs over the past year. Rigel on August 26 said it was halting development of its experimental compound R343 for allergic asthma after the SYK inhibitor failed to meet its primary endpoint in a Phase II study, a change in pre-bronchodilator FEV1 from baseline to dosing completion at week 8.

And in June, AstraZeneca ended a collaboration with Rigel to develop fostamatinib for rheumatoid arthritis, opting instead to write off $140 million in associated costs, after a Phase IIb trial of the oral spleen tyrosine kinase inhibitor produced disappointing results when compared with Humira, and Phase III data this past spring proved to be mixed.

“The company will not continue further development of fostamatinib for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis or lymphoma due to insufficient efficacy findings from recent clinical trials and the competitive landscape for the agent in those indications,” Rigel stated.

Rigel said it was still assessing the restructuring and other charges associated with the layoffs, expected to be recorded mostly in the third quarter.

Rigel buried news of the layoffs in its announcement detailing the three clinical programs on which it will focus going forward:

  • Fostamatinib, for which the company plans to launch a Phase III study of the compound for immune thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP), pending discussions with regulatory agencies. The company said it believes the study would encompass about 150 patients and can be completed in 2015.
  • R333, a topical dermatological JAK/SYK inhibitor for discoid lupus erythematosus, now in Phase II studies with results expected in the fourth quarter.
  • R348, a topical ophthalmic JAK/SYK inhibitor for dry eye, also in Phase II, but with results expected in the second quarter of 2014.

The company said it expects to advance either R333 or R348 into a Phase III clinical program by 2014 or 2015.

“Strategically, we have made a decision to concentrate our resources on the programs that we believe hold the greatest potential for a near term path to market,” James M. Gower, Rigel’s chairman and CEO, said in a statement. “The size and scope of these clinical programs are such that we can fund and manage them in-house, thereby maintaining control and flexibility over their development.” 

As of June 30, Rigel had $251 million in cash and equivalents, which the company said it considers sufficient for maintaining its current development priorities into 2016.

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