Aslan slashes headcount following midphase failure

Axe and chopping block
The slimmed-down business will focus on advancing varlitinib in biliary tract cancer. (Pixabay/sierramurra)

Aslan Pharmaceuticals is set to cut its headcount by 30% in response to a recent setback in the clinic. The layoffs are expected to halve Aslan’s operational costs, extending its runway as it heads toward upcoming readouts.

Singapore-based Aslan suffered a setback earlier this month when its oral small molecule pan-HER inhibitor varlitinib failed to improve outcomes in a phase 2 study of patients with metastatic gastric cancer. The news drove a double-digit drop in Aslan’s share price and wiped out one of the prospects that helped it limp to a downsized $42 million Nasdaq IPO last year.

Two weeks after disclosing the midphase flop, Aslan has shared its response to the blow. Aslan is set to cut its headcount and focus its resources on getting its remaining studies past readouts that could revitalize its prospects. Aslan is also losing CMO Bertil Lindmark, who has taken over as CMO of eTheRNA Immunotherapies.

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The slimmed-down business will focus on advancing varlitinib as a first- and second-line treatment for biliary tract cancer. Aslan wrapped up enrollment in its global pivotal TreeTopp trial in second-line patients last month, putting it on track to deliver data in the back half of 2019. If positive, Aslan plans to use the data to support NDAs in China, the U.S. and other major markets.

That timeline has persuaded Aslan to close a second-line trial it was running in China. Aslan now expects the single-arm Chinese trial to read out after the global study, persuading it to tie its future to TreeTopp.

Aslan is continuing phase 1 and 2 clinical trials of other assets in atopic dermatitis and acute myeloid leukemia, respectively, and expects to complete aspects of these studies in the first half of the year. The cuts are intended to ensure Aslan can get its three remaining programs to key readouts.

“We are approaching several significant milestones in 2019 and beyond, so it is important we complete key studies over the next two years,” Aslan CEO Carl Firth said in a statement.

Aslan ended September with NT$1.1 billion ($35.7 million). Operating expenses for the most recent quarter came in at NT$935 million, although Aslan spent notably less in the two preceding quarters.

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