Asher drops 60% of staff as immunotherapy biotech zeroes in on lead candidate

Small immunotherapy biotech Asher Bio has reduced its workforce by 60%, sending 34 employees on their way and pivoting to focus on a single immunotherapy.

Chief Operating Officer Kyle Elrod confirmed the layoffs to Fierce Biotech Tuesday afternoon.

The focus will now be on lead asset AB248, a CD8+ T cell selective interleukin-2, that is currently in an open label phase 1a/1b clinical trial in combination with Merck & Co.’s Keytruda for solid tumors. Elrod said that resources will go towards pushing the therapy through clinical proof-of-concept to evaluate its clinical and commercial potential.

Elrod said that AB248 uses a cis-targeting mechanism to go after the IL-2 target to activate CD8+ T cells to treat solid tumors.

AB248 has always been at the front of Asher’s portfolio, but other meds included the oncology asset AB821 and AB359 for chronic viral infections, both of which were in preclinical testing. Asher also had discovery programs targeting cell therapy protein and myeloid cell protein.

Asher emerged in March 2021 with $55 million and a goal to deliver cytokines without the side effects. That initial seed funding was quickly topped off with a $108 million series B a few months later in September 2021.

Since then, Asher has been quiet on the fundraising front but busy on the conference circuit, with many stops this year touting preclinical data for AB248 and AB359.