ATyr slashes headcount, cuts costs after ORCA runs aground

An aTyr Pharma company photo. (aTyr Pharma)

ATyr Pharma is laying off 30% of its staff and otherwise cutting its costs in response to lackluster data. The biotech made the cuts after preclinical data on its anticancer antibodies suggested they lack the required efficacy.

San Diego, California-based aTyr made ORCA its third program after identifying a link between the resokine pathway—the backbone of its pipeline—and the ways tumors evade the immune system. The link suggested aTyr could deploy its knowledge of the resokine pathway to develop that most desirable of assets: a drug that makes checkpoint inhibitors more effective.

ATyr’s belief in the theory was brief. Researchers presented initial data on the program at the start of the year, emboldening aTyr to predict a 2019 move into the clinic. Subsequent readouts put pay to that plan.

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Details of the data have yet to emerge, but aTyr said what it learned over the past month suggests its ORCA antibodies lack the efficacy to advance. That prompted aTyr to call off IND-enabling activities and layoff staff. ATyr’s diminished resources are now focused on its last hope, ATYR1923. 

ORCA’s importance to aTyr grew last year when the biotech made it one of the focal points of its R&D. Resolaris, a treatment for rare muscular dystrophies, used to be the top priority at aTyr, but the company dialed down its interest after getting a look at early clinical data. With Resolaris on the backburner, ORCA and ATYR1923 stepped into the limelight.

The two-pronged R&D focus was short lived, though. ATYR1923 is the only one game in town for the newly slimmed-down aTyr.

“Going forward, we are primarily focused on ATYR1923 and designing a future patient trial which will be influenced by data from our ongoing phase I trial, translational activities and research related to the role of the receptor for ATYR1923,” aTyr CEO Sanjay Shukla, M.D., said in a statement.

ATyr had $74.1 million in the bank as of the end of March.