Polyphor sharpens ax on staff, shutters failed breast cancer test

ax in a tree stump
Reducing its headcount will enable Polyphor to stretch out its cash reserves. (Markus Spiske)

Polyphor is closing its failed phase 3 breast cancer clinical trial and planning to lay off staff to lower its costs. The Swiss biotech said its “initial” restructuring will affect 29 positions and it is continuing a strategic assessment. 

Late last month, Polyphor revealed the comprehensive failure of its CXCR4 Inhibitor balixafortide in a phase 3 clinical trial of patients with HER2-negative, locally recurrent or metastatic breast cancer. The failure of balixafortide, the only clinical-phase asset in Polyphor’s internal pipeline, triggered the start of a strategic assessment of the future of the company.

The assessment is ongoing, and the board still plans to provide an update by the end of the month. However, further analysis of the phase 3 data has persuaded Polyphor to take some actions before the results of the strategic assessment are available.

Polyphor is stopping the phase 3 trial in response to the objective response and clinical benefit rate. Against those endpoints, the cohort of patients who received balixafortide and Halaven performed worse numerically than the control arm that got the approved Eisai drug as a monotherapy. Having performed a thorough analysis, Polyphor has failed to find a reason to continue the study.

An analysis of the progression-free survival data will take place as the data mature, but Polyphor has dropped plans to assess overall survival. Polyphor said it will not seek marketing approval on the basis of the study.

The failure of balixafortide in phase 3 looks set to cost 29 people their jobs. Polyphor said it plans to “restructure” up to 29 positions. A consultation process with employees is underway. Polyphor called the cuts the “initial” restructuring.

Reducing the headcount will enable Polyphor to stretch out its cash reserves. Polyphor ended 2020 with 34.3 million Swiss francs ($37.3 million) in cash, a sum it said would see it into the third quarter of this year. Prior to the balixafortide failure, Polyphor had planned to start a phase 1 clinical trial of inhaled murepavadin in cystic fibrosis patients in the third quarter.