Trevena sheds scientific staff and CSO to focus on lead pain drug

All told, 21 full-time employees are being shown the exit, mainly from the research team, while founding chief scientific officer Michael Lark, Ph.D. will also be leaving the company in December after nearly a decade in the role.

Around a third of Trevena’s workforce are facing the chop as the biotech throws all its weight behind soon-to-be-filed injectable pain therapy Olinvo.

All told, 21 full-time employees are being shown the exit, mainly from the research team, while founding chief scientific officer Michael Lark, Ph.D. will also be leaving the company in December after nearly a decade in the role.

Trevena said it is also halting investment in all early-stage R&D, but will complete a phase 1 trial of migraine candidate TRV250 before deciding on the future of that project, and is also taking a rain check on a series of novel S1P modulators for neuropathic pain.

That means heart failure candidate TRV027 has been shelved—unsurprisingly as it flunked a phase 2b trial last year—along with the orally active follow-up to Olinvo (oliceridine) TRV734.

The biotech’s CEO Maxine Gowen,Ph. D., said the goal is to reduce its operating spend by around $40 million over the next three years as the company works through the preregistration activities for mu opioid receptor modulator Olinvo, due for filing with the FDA this month as a treatment for moderate to severe pain.

The company had around $77 million in ready cash at the end of September, which with the cutbacks should allow it to operate into the fourth quarter of 2018—by which time the FDA should have delivered its verdict on Olinvo.

“We have decided to reduce our capital needs and focus our resources on the future approval and commercialization of Olinvo, which we believe will be an important new option for physicians and patients,” said Gowan.

The drug relieves pain without respiratory and gastrointestinal side effects that limit other agents, according to the company, which picked up a breakthrough therapy designation for oliceridine last year.

It reported phase 3 data on the drug in February in patients who had tummy-tuck surgery (abdominoplasty) or surgery to remove bunions. The drug matched morphine for pain relief but with a faster onset that meant it outperformed the comparator drug in the early stages post-surgery.

The data on safety were less compelling, however, with trends to improvement over morphine rather than the significant gains seen in phase 2. The results prompted a sell-off in Trevena shares, although Oppenheimer analysts said the reaction was overblown and the drug could still become an important option for patients most at-risk of opioid-related side effects.