After 2 partners walk away, Syros cuts 35% of workforce and lines up new CEO

A few weeks after a second company walked away from Syros Pharmaceuticals, the biotech is laying off 35% of staff and sharpening its focus on a medicine for higher-risk myelodysplastic syndrome (HR-MDS) and acute myeloid leukemia (AML).

The company also announced the retirement of its CEO, Nancy Simonian, M.D., who will step down at the end of the year, according to a Monday press release. Conley Chee, who currently serves as chief commercial officer and chief business officer, will succeed Simonian starting December 2. Chee joined Syros from Novartis in 2021.

The workforce cuts and reprioritization come after Incyte ended a five-year collaboration with Syros in August. The companies had identified seven targets, but Incyte ultimately opted not to take any into further development. Pfizer also walked away from a sickle cell program with Syros earlier this year. The New York Big Pharma had inherited the partnership from Global Blood Therapeutics, which it acquired in 2022. 

Syros will now focus on tamibarotene, which is due for a phase 2 readout in AML later this year, plus a pivotal phase 3 readout for HR-MDS next year.

“Today, we are taking hard—but necessary—steps towards delivering tamibarotene to patients with HR-MDS and AML. This includes streamlining our team and, due to capital constraints, stopping further investment in SY-2101 for the foreseeable future,” Simonian said in a statement Monday. “Together, we expect these decisions will ensure we are sufficiently funded to advance through critical value inflection points.”

SY-2101 is an oral form of arsenic trioxide that Syros had been developing in acute promyelocytic leukemia, alongside other preclinical and discovery-stage programs in the works. The company may re-up the program at a later date, but for now it’s on pause until more cash becomes available.

Remaining staff will focus on tamibarotene, including prepping for a potential U.S. launch. Chief Scientific Officer Eric Olson, Ph.D., will also be leaving the company as the priority shifts to tamibarotene, effective October 16.

The company reported cash and equivalents of $144 million as of June 30, 2023, which was expected to last into 2025, according to a second-quarter earnings report.