With its back to the wall after pipeline busts, Aviragen slashes headcount

Biotech has retained financial advisors Stifel, Nicolaus & Co. to explore its options

With two failed trials all but striking the head off its product pipeline, Aviragen has started to look at strategic alternatives to breathe new life into its business—and said it will reduce its headcount by 25%.

After reviewing the state of its R&D programs, the Atlanta-based biotech said it has retained financial advisors Stifel and Nicolaus & Co. to "explore a wide range of strategic alternatives that include a business combination or strategic merger, in-licensing clinical stage programs, an acquisition, or other transaction."

The decision came after Aviragen's vapendavir drug failed a phase 2b trial in asthma patients with rhinovirus infections, which followed news its respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) candidate BTA585 missed its objectives in a phase 2a study—aside from the fact that it is still subject to an FDA clinical hold.

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Aviragen also confirmed today that a planned phase 2 trial of vapendavir in hematopoietic stem cell transplant patients will not be going ahead. It is not giving up on the program just yet, however, saying it is "evaluating a potential clinical development path for the drug based on the consistent antiviral effect observed" in trials.

That could leave BTA074—a topical treatment for condyloma or genital warts caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) currently in a phase 2 trial due to report next year—as Aviragen's most advanced project.

The situation has also left Aviragen's status on the Nasdaq in jeopardy, with its stock price languishing below the exchange's $1.00 minimum threshold for the last month. The company's shares are currently trading at 66 cents, well below a year-long high of $2.00.

The biotech is setting no timeline for the re-evaluation, and said it will not discuss the matter further without board approval. It was sitting on cash and cash equivalents of a little under $39 million at the end of 2016, according to its most recent financial update.

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