Lyell loses 25% of staff, CMO as biotech conserves funding to survive in post-GSK future

A year after Lyell Immunopharma lost a $1 billion biobucks partnership with GSK, the cell therapy biotech is offloading a quarter of its staff and deprioritizing some earlier-stage research to extend funding into 2027.

The company is now “prioritizing investment in its most value enhancing clinical-stage product candidates and core research platforms,” Lyell explained in a third-quarter earning release Tuesday. Leading the charge is a ROR1-targeted CAR-T dubbed LYL797, which is undergoing a phase 1 trial in patients with relapsed or refractory triple-negative breast cancer or non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). A readout from the first 20 patients enrolled in the study is expected in the first half of next year.

Lyell’s other clinical-stage asset is LYL845, an epigenetically reprogrammed tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte (TIL) product being assessed in patients with relapsed and/or refractory metastatic or locally advanced melanoma, NSCLC and colorectal cancer.

The biotech will also persevere with two preclinical candidates: another ROR1-targeted CAR-T called LYL119 and a second-generation TIL.

Meanwhile, the company has “scaled down investment in certain early-stage research programs and stage gated certain other expenses.” This has resulted in a 25% reduction in the biotech’s workforce, which is expected to be completed before the end of the year. Chief Medical Officer Tina Albertson, M.D., Ph.D., is also departing the business.

Explaining the restructuring, CEO Lynn Seely, M.D., said the company “remains confident in our science, our product candidates and our ability to deliver meaningful advances in cell therapy to patients with solid tumors.”

“We are focused on strengthening our ability to fully elucidate the potential of the currently disclosed product candidates in our pipeline through multiple clinical milestones and have extended our ability to fund operations into 2027,” Albertson added in the release. “We have restructured our company to prioritize investment in our clinical stage programs and core research platforms and have streamlined operations.”

The downsizing means that Lyell now expects the $598.2 million it has in cash and equivalents to fund its clinical programs for at least three more years. That breathing space might start to come in useful soon, as the biotech comes to terms with the loss of potentially $1 billion in milestones from its GSK collaboration.

Lyell partnered with the British Big Pharma in 2019, securing $45 million upfront to apply its technologies to T-cell therapies. But, by summer 2022, Lyell was warning that the partnership faced “new uncertainty” because GSK had stopped enrollment in a clinical trial of a first-generation NY-ESO-1 candidate after it delivered lackluster data.

A few months later, Lyell disclosed that a strategic review by GSK had resulted in the pharma terminating the partnered programs, called LYL132 and LYL331.