More Assembly required: Biotech looks for core inhibitor partnership in shift to antivirals

Less than a month after Assembly paused the development of one of two core inhibitors to treat hepatitis B, the duo has now been put up for grabs.

Assembly paused development of ABI-H3733, which BeiGene owns the China rights for, in March after getting a glimpse of early-phase data. Now, the biotech will look for a partner to develop that drug and another, ABI-4334, after seeing additional phase 1 data on that candidate, according to a release late Tuesday

The San Francisco biotech will instead focus on its preclinical antiviral pipeline unveiled last year. CEO Jason Okazaki said those programs “offer higher potential to have a near-term impact for patients and stockholders,” according to the release. A spokesperson for the company said that there are no planned layoffs as part of the announcement. 

The pipeline decision came after Assembly saw data from the final dosing cohort of a phase 1b trial testing ABI-4334. The available data supported a once-daily dosing regimen, and the pharmacodynamic results showed promising biomarker data, according to the company. But, evidently, it wasn’t enough to keep pushing the therapy down the assembly line. Okazaki said that while the company was “enthusiastic,” both ABI-4334 and ABI-H3733 will require longer-duration phase 2 studies.

Assembly expects the reprioritization to extend the company’s cash runway a little more than a year into the third quarter of 2024. That does not provide for much breathing room, however, with the first of the antiviral candidates—a treatment for high-recurrence genital herpes—expected to enter the clinic in the first half of next year. 

The news continues a disappointing trend for Assembly, which has yet to find a success story in its pipeline. The company laid off 30% of its staff in July 2022 after deciding to end work on vebicorvir, once considered a potential functional cure candidate for hepatitis B. Months earlier, in September 2021, work ended on a similar asset, ABI-H2158.