Cash-strapped Calithera closes down in shadow of enrollment delays to cancer trials

Calithera Biosciences has kept its head down since a phase 2 fail in 2021 caused layoffs for a third of its workforce. But in the wake of enrollment delays for two lead cancer therapies, the cash-strapped biotech has given up the fight and announced it’s liquidating the business.

“The board of directors and management devoted substantial time and effort in identifying and pursuing various opportunities, but we were unable to complete a transaction that would allow us to continue the development of our clinical programs and enhance shareholder value,” CEO Susan Molineaux, Ph.D., said in a release Monday.

As a result, all clinical programs will be shut down, with “most” of the company’s employees terminated by the end of this quarter.

“Importantly, I would like to sincerely thank our employees and others who have supported Calithera over the years,” Molineaux added in her statement yesterday. “We appreciate your partnership and participation, and we truly wish the outcome was different today.”

Money had been tight at the biotech for a while. Calithera had cash and equivalents of $34.1 million at the end of September, which was only expected to last into the second quarter of this year. In November, the company revealed it was “evaluating all options for its programs, including strategic collaboration or licensing agreements and actively considering the sale of certain programs, in order to extend its cash runway.”

It can’t have helped that things weren’t quite going to plan for its lead programs, either. Calithera also used its November financial report to reveal that “site activation delays” meant that enrollment for trials of sapanisertib and mivavotinib had been “slower than anticipated.” Still, the company said at the time that initial data from these studies were expected in mid-2023, with sapanisertib having secured an FDA fast-track tag for non-small cell lung cancer in October.

The biotech licensed both drugs from Takeda in 2021 after the failure of its own drug telaglenastat in a midstage kidney cancer test prompted Calithera to wield the ax on 35% of staff.

Calithera's announcement is just the latest in a string of recent closures for struggling biotechs, with Otonomy winding down in December, followed by Nabriva Therapeutics last week.