Agenus said today it will eliminate 50 jobs and shut down a facility in Basel, Switzerland, in a reorganization designed to refocus the company on clinical development of its two checkpoint inhibitor antibodies and vaccine program.
The 50 positions will be phased out over the next 6 months and are based across the organization, Agenus said. The company also plans to consolidate key operations in Lexington, MA, where the company is based, and Cambridge, UK, following the Basel shutdown.
Agenus said its priority development programs include developing combination therapies targeting cytotoxic T-lymphocyte-associated protein 4 (CTLA-4) and programmed cell death protein 1 (PD-1); advancing preclinical immuno-oncology antibody candidates targeting 4-1BB and T cell Ig and ITIM domain (TIGIT) toward the clinic; and developing AutoSynVax™, a clinical-stage neoantigen cancer vaccine. The company said it is exploring combination studies with AutoSynVax and Agenus' checkpoint antibodies.
Another area of “substantial” focus, Agenus said, will be its manufacturing operations in Berkeley, CA to ensure GMP readiness. The company intends to commercialize its treatments within the next 4 years.
Agenus also plans to transition or consolidate “certain key management positions” to streamline its leadership and reduce costs. One affected position is president of R&D, the job held now by Robert Stein, M.D. He will retire to become a senior R&D advisor exclusive to Agenus and be available for strategic guidance to the company’s R&D leaders, whom he has overseen.
The reorganization comes a month after Agenus acknowledged the Phase II trial failure of its Prophage G-200 (heat shock protein peptide complex-96, or HSPPC-96) vaccine in combination with Roche/Genentech marketed cancer drug Avastin® (bevacizumab) in patients with surgically resectable recurrent glioblastoma multiforme.
That acknowledgement came February 21 in a Form 8-K regulatory filing that concluded: “The interim analysis suggested that the trial is unlikely to demonstrate that the vaccine in combination with bevacizumab will lead to a better survival than bevacizumab as a monotherapy. Therefore, upon the DSMB’s recommendation, the accrual for the trial has been closed.”
DSMB is the Data and Safety Monitoring Board of the entity conducting the trial, the Alliance for Clinical Trials in Oncology, a cooperative group of the NIH’s National Cancer Institute.
A week before the trial failure, Agenus said it restructured a collaboration with Incyte that was launched in 2015 and supposed to generate up to $410 million for Agenus.
The restructuring shifted responsibility for funding as well as global development and commercialization of cancer immunotherapies for two of the collaboration’s four targeted genes—glucocorticoid-induced tumor necrosis factor receptor (TNFR)-related gene (GITR) and OX40—from both companies to Incyte. As a result, Agenus became eligible to receive 15% royalties on global net sales of each approved product, rather than sharing profits 50-50 with Incyte.
Agenus said its reorganization was intended in part to extend the Company's cash runway beyond the restructured Incyte collaboration, which added $80 million to Agenus’ coffers—accelerated milestone payments of $20 million and $60 million raised by Incyte purchasing 10 million shares of Agenus common stock at $6 per share.
Other goals outlined by Agenus for its reorganization were accelerating development and commercialization of its product portfolio to drive shareholder value, improving R&D efficiencies through the consolidation of sites, and ensuring commercial readiness and manufacturing.
“These changes to our organizational structure make us a leaner and more focused organization, which is critically important for our next phase of advancement towards commercial readiness,” Garo Armen, Ph.D., chairman and CEO, said in a statement. “We will also maintain a focused R&D effort to rapidly generate and develop best-of-breed novel immuno-oncology candidates.”