CytomX slashes headcount by 40% after breast cancer setback, with later-stage development bearing the brunt

First the setback, then the cuts. CytomX Therapeutics became the latest biotech to follow the rhythm of the industry late Wednesday, when it set out plans to reduce its headcount by 40% to extend its cash runway after its lead candidate failed to meet the bar for moving into phase 3.

Staffers at CytomX got wind it may be time to start polishing their résumés last week, when the failure of CD166-directed antibody-drug conjugate (ADC) praluzatamab ravtansine in triple-negative breast cancer prompted the biotech to seek a partner for the candidate. Lacking another in-house clinical-phase asset, CytomX has decided to slim down to reserve cash as it works to rebuild its pipeline.

The changes will affect tens of employees. CytomX, which ended last year with 174 full-time employees, is set to reduce its headcount by 40%, with most of the pink slips going to staff working in development and general and administrative roles. 

“Since we will not be initiating phase 3 studies in the near term … we will be substantially reducing the size of our organization, including significant cuts in our later-stage development teams. We will be maintaining strong capabilities in research and translational sciences as we continue to advance our pipeline,” CytomX CEO Sean McCarthy said on a call with investors. “We strongly believe these are the right steps to take at this moment in time in the biotech equity capital markets.”

Slimming down will extend CytomX’s cash runway to 2025, buying it time to move new programs into the clinic and start to drum up investor enthusiasm for its new-look pipeline. Submissions to begin clinical trials for the most advanced wholly owned candidates, CX-801 and CX-2051, are planned for the second half of next year.    

CX-801 is an interferon alpha-2b probody. Based on preclinical data, CytomX thinks it can improve on the tolerability of the unmasked cytokine without dampening its anti-cancer effects, leading it to advance the molecule as a treatment for hot and cold tumors. CX-2051 is a conditionally activated, EpCAM-directed ADC that has replaced the now deprioritized CX-2043 as CytomX’s molecule of choice against the target.

With neither of the candidates due to submitted for a clinical trial application for at least a year, CytomX’s hopes of reinvigorating its battered share price rest on its partnered programs and the deprioritized breast cancer ADC in the near term. A data update on the AbbVie-partnered, CD71-directed ADC CX-2029 in squamous non-small cell lung cancer is planned for later in 2022, as are updated data on the internal breast cancer candidate that could theoretically improve CytomX’s chances of landing a partner.

To read more about layoffs across the biotech industry, check out Fierce Biotech's Layoff Tracker.