Five Prime cuts 41 jobs, narrows focus to clinical-stage drugs

Cancer in newspaper clipping
With five clinical programs, Five Prime Therapeutics needs to reduce its cash burn. (PDPics / Pixabay)

Immuno-oncology player Five Prime Therapeutics is axing 20% of its workforce and its early-stage R&D in order to focus on its clinical cancer programs.

A total of 41 jobs are going as a result of the restructuring, mainly in "research, pathology and manufacturing," allowing it to shave around $10 million off its 2019 operating costs, offset by $2 million in charges.

The South San Francisco company says it expects to end the year with $148 million to $153 million in accessible cash, down from $270 million at the end of 2018, which gives an indication of its current high burn rate with five drugs in clinical trials. Shares in the company were unmoved by the announcement.

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Five Prime’s CEO Aron Knickerbocker said the decision stems from a need to “sharpen our focus on our current clinical programs and the advancement of our later-stage research initiatives,” as well as to make effective use of its capital.

Five Prime has a number of clinical readouts due this year—including a couple due to be presented at the ASCO gastrointestinal symposium later this week.

The biotech’s phase 3 candidate bemarituzumab for stomach cancer, a fibroblast growth factor receptor 2 inhibitor partnered with Chinese company Zai Lab, is on the ASCO GI presentation list, along with colony stimulating factor 1 receptor antibody cabiralizumab it is developing with long-term partner Bristol-Myers Squibb.

Cabiralizumab is in phase 2 for pancreatic and biliary tract cancers, but had mixed results in a phase 1 trial alongside BMS’ checkpoint inhibitor Opdivo toward the end of 2017. BMS paid Five Prime $350 million upfront to partner the CSF1R program two years earlier.

Knickerbocker said at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference earlier this month that every one of the company's clinical programs has a data point coming up but gave no indication at that time that the biotech was planning to slim down, other than to say he was pitching at a lower cash burn this year compared to 2018.

The data on bemarituzumab due for presentation this week are from a safety lead-in to the FIGHT registration trial in gastric and gastroesophageal junction cancer, while BMS will present phase 2 results with cabiralizumab and Opdivo—with and without chemo—in advanced pancreatic ductal carcinoma.

At the main ASCO conference in May/June, the company hopes to present phase 1 data on FPA150, a B7-H4 antibody in development for breast, ovarian and endometrial cancers, with additional data from that program due at Europe’s ESMO congress later in the year.

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