Former Big Pharma darling Atreca axes lead drug, 40% of staff in last-ditch pivot to ADCs

Atreca is taking drastic action to keep the show on the road into next year. With its cash running low and share price in the basement, the biotech has decided to stop work on its lead candidate, switch its focus to preclinical antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs) and lay off 40% of its staff. 

The California-based biotech waltzed through its first decade, securing deals with companies including GSK, Johnson & Johnson, Novartis, Pfizer and Sanofi on the strength of a drug discovery platform that probes B-cell responses to identify novel antibodies and the targets that engage with them. But the tale has darkened in recent years as money worries have driven Atreca to make cuts to defer a cash crunch. 

Having laid off 25% of its staff and dropped a near-clinical candidate over safety signals last year, Atreca disclosed its biggest pivot yet after the stock market closed Thursday. The biotech is suspending work on its early-phase antibody candidate ATRC-101 and almost halving its head count. Atreca had 90 full-time employees at the end of last year.

According to Atreca, the antibody “continues to be well tolerated” in a phase 1b solid tumor clinical trial. The biotech began limiting enrollment to people with biopsies positive for the target of ATRC-101 last year and has seen “longer progression-free survival in patients with high target expression.” However, with the end of the cash runway coming up fast, none of that was enough to spare ATRC-101.

By stopping work on ATRC-101 and laying off 40% of its staff, the biotech expects its resources will fund “operating and capital needs through early 2024.” Atreca again warned investors that the successful execution of its plan to get “sufficient funding from one or more of these sources or adequately reduce expenditures ... is less than probable.”

The suspension of work on ATRC-101 leaves Atreca focused on preclinical ADCs. Atreca expects to pick a clinical candidate from the most advanced of the programs, APN-497444, this year and apply to run a clinical trial around the end of 2024. The biotech also has a malaria candidate that the Bill & Melinda Gates Medical Research Institute is preparing to take into phase 1 this year.