Barinthus lays off 25% of staff, sidelines prostate cancer program to stretch out cash

Barinthus Biotherapeutics has used positive interim data from a pair of phase 2 trials for its hepatitis B therapy as justification for sidelining its prostate cancer candidate and jettisoning a quarter of the T-cell-focused biotech’s workforce.

The U.K.-based company—formerly known as Vaccitech—said the interim readouts from the trials of VTP-300 it unveiled at the European Association for the Study of the Liver (EASL) Congress last week “demonstrated VTP-300’s potential to significantly reduce and maintain hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) levels and achieve undetectable HBsAg levels in patients with” chronic hepatitis B (CHB).

At the time, analysts at William Blair said the “results demonstrate VTP-300's ability to potentially induce a functional cure for CHB, pending the outcome of further development.”

In Wednesday’s postmarket release, Barinthus also pointed to “encouraging” preclinical findings for its lead candidate, a celiac disease drug called VTP-1000, as reason for prioritizing that asset along with VTP-300.

VTP-1000 is designed to balance the immune response by inducing gluten-specific T regulatory cells and reduce gluten-specific T effector cell responses. After preclinical research in disease models demonstrated “mode of action and disease amelioration,” Barinthus said it is gearing up to take VTP-1000 into the clinic in the third quarter.

“The company expects to undergo a restructuring to align resources with the streamlined pipeline, which will include a workforce reduction of approximately 25% and an estimated extension of the cash runway into the second quarter of 2026,” the company said in the June 12 release.

The biotech had previously expected the $130 million in cash and equivalents it had to hand as of the end of March to run out by the end of 2025.

An ongoing phase 1 trial of VTP-850 in prostate cancer will be completed, the company confirmed in yesterday’s release. But the immunotherapeutic, which encodes for multiple prostate-associated antigens, didn’t appear to feature in the company’s future plans as set out in the announcement.

There was also no mention in the release of VTP-200, an immunotherapeutic combo regimen for high-risk human papillomavirus that hit the primary safety endpoint of a phase 1b/2 trial in April. However, the data for the trial’s overall patient population didn’t demonstrate a significant improvement in hrHPV clearance or cervical lesion clearance.

“With this pipeline prioritization, we put the company in a strong position to maximize the probability of success, particularly given the encouraging VTP-300 phase 2 interim data presented at EASL earlier this month and the compelling differentiation of our novel SNAP-TI platform to treat autoimmune diseases,” CEO Bill Enright said in the release.

“In line with our pipeline prioritization, we have made the difficult decision to reduce our workforce,” Enright added. “I would like to thank our talented employees for their contributions to the company’s achievements.”

In a note this morning, analysts at William Blair gave their blessing to Barinthus’ move.

“We agree with management’s decision to streamline the company’s R&D pipeline, which in our view is evidence-based and driven by evolving data,” the analysts wrote. “We believe new data generated from the VTP-300 program could showcase the regimen’s role in helping patients living with CHB to achieve functional cures.”