Celldex to ax 20% of staff after midstage glembatumumab rout

New Jersey-based Celldex hit its first major roadblock in 2016, when its cancer vaccine Rintega failed a phase 3 glioblastoma trial. (Markus Spiske)

Celldex Therapeutics ditched its glembatumumab vedotin program last week after it failed a phase 2 study in triple-negative breast cancer. Now, the company is laying off 41 employees and choosing not to fill 18 open positions to cut costs and stay afloat.

The reduction will leave the company with 148 employees and come to about $1.3 million in severance-related costs, Celldex said in an SEC filing Tuesday. In addition to slashing operating costs, the move will also “better align its workforce with the needs of its business,” the company said.

New Jersey-based Celldex hit its first major roadblock in 2016, when its cancer vaccine Rintega failed a phase 3 glioblastoma trial. Once predicted to become the second cancer vaccine to earn approval in the U.S. after Provenge, the candidate did not improve survival, leading Celldex to end the trial. It turned to glembatumumab vedotin (glemba), the most advanced asset in its pipeline.

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But that blew up too—nearly two years later, history repeated itself and the once-promising glemba also failed to improve survival over Genentech’s Xeloda in patients with metastatic triple-negative breast cancer. Celldex discontinued the program and started “evaluating our operational and workforce needs to extend our financial resources and direct them to continued pipeline advancement,” said CEO Anthony Marucci at the time.

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Now, Celldex is left to pick up the pieces with what’s left of its pipeline. Varlilumab, a CD27 agonist, is in a phase 2 study in combination with Bristol-Myers’ Opdivo, with data expected to read out this year. And a phase 2 trial of CDX-3379, an ErbB3 inhibitor, in tandem with Eli Lilly’s Erbitux is set to finish enrolling in the third quarter. That leaves a CD40 agonist and a dendritic cell mobilizer, which are both in phase 1.