Bayer-bought BlueRock cuts 12% of workforce across 3 sites as pipeline contracts

BlueRock Therapeutics is shrinking its pipeline to afford growing clinical plans, including an upcoming phase 2 Parkinson’s disease trial, laying off 12% of the team across three sites.

The Bayer-bought cell therapy biotech is taking a pipeline of nine assets and focusing on four, according to a statement from a BlueRock spokesperson. The priority is the company’s cell therapy to treat Parkinson’s that’s gearing up for a phase 2 trial set to begin in the first half of 2024. Ophthalmology asset OpCT-001 will soon join it in human trials, with a formal ask to regulators expected sometime in the next year. BlueRock will also continue work on a second Parkinson’s cell therapy and a stem-cell-derived treatment for heart failure.

Endpoints News first reported news of the layoffs and pipeline prioritization.

The 12% reduction represents layoffs to about 50 employees, the spokesperson added. The cuts will be across sites in Cambridge, New York and Toronto. BlueRock CEO Seth Ettenberg said in a LinkedIn post that the changes were meant to help maintain the momentum thus far. 

“Unfortunately, this meant we had to say goodbye to some great colleagues,” he wrote, putting out a call for other companies to hire staff just hitting the market. 

The decision comes a few weeks after Bayer posted shrinking earnings thanks in large part to its crop business. The company’s recent leadership, including new CEO Bill Anderson, has had to fend off calls to break up the company’s agriculture and consumer health business. Anderson took the job after leading Roche’s pharmaceutical wing, evidence that the priority of the board was to bolster that side of the business.

Pharmaceuticals sales were shaky themselves, down 5.4% year over year in the second quarter and down 5.1% through the first half of the year versus the year prior. Declining sales of Xarelto, due to generics entering the fold, has been a key reason. Sales were down nearly 10% in the first half of 2023 compared the same period in 2022.

What remains to be seen is what, if anything, BlueRock does with the preclinical assets that are no longer the focus. Friedemann Janus, Ph.D., acting head of Bayer’s business development wing, described in a previous interview ambitions to find new partnership opportunities for Bayer's “arms-length model companies.” 

“We bought these companies for a reason: to strengthen our internal pipeline,” he said in May.