Gritstone lays off 40% of team after delayed launch of COVID vax trial

Gritstone Bio is laying off 40% of employees after delaying the start of a phase 2 trial testing its COVID-19 vaccine, which in turn pushed back the receipt of federal funds.

The layoffs announced after-market on Thursday are the latest consequence of a manufacturing delay that was revealed earlier in February. The phase 2b CORAL trial, originally slated to launch in the first quarter, was pushed to the fall to “allow use of fully GMP-grade raw materials.” But Gritstone now says that delaying the trial resulted in some external funding falling through.

“The lack of near-term funding necessitated this difficult step to fortify our balance sheet and cash position, which unfortunately means an impact to our workforce,” CEO Andrew Allen, M.D., Ph.D., said in a release. The funding referenced is the first tranche of funds from the federal government announced late last year. 

The company did not say how much was expected in this first tranche of payments from the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. But the contract is worth up to $433 million through Project NextGen, which is funding a number of companies’ efforts to create new strategies to fight COVID-19. Gritstone is conducting a 10,000-person U.S.-based phase 2 study for its self-amplifying mRNA (samRNA) vaccine candidate. The study was expected to get off the ground in the first quarter.

Gritstone’s other priorities, including the phase 2 portion of a phase 2/3 study of a personalized cancer vaccine, remain unchanged, according to the release. Data are expected from that program later this quarter, Allen said.