Scholar Rock in a hard place as biotech lays off 25% of staff, narrows pipeline and loses CMO

Scholar Rock is the latest biotech to scale back its ambitions in the face of a tough funding climate, laying off a quarter of staff as well as trimming its pipeline and waving goodbye to its CMO.

The company—focused on the treatment of serious diseases in which protein growth factors play a fundamental role—will narrow its scope to focus on apitegromab, which is undergoing phase 2 and 3 trials to address motor function impairments in spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). Scholar Rock’s SRK-181 program for solid tumors showing primary resistance to anti-PD-(L)1 therapy also “remains a priority with strategic value,” Scholar Rock said.

Betting on apitegromab makes sense. Last month, the company reported 12-month data that was in line with the six-month data drop that sent Scholar Rock’s stock price soaring last October. That teed up the biotech to move into the pivotal phase 3 SAPPHIRE trial, for which the company is currently enrolling patients with non-ambulatory type 2 and 3 SMA.

“While we have paused many of our discovery programs, we are continuing to progress selected pre-clinical programs which best exemplify the value of our platform,” Ted Myles, chief operating and chief financial officer at Scholar Rock, said in a statement. “As a platform company, business development remains an important part of our strategy and we continue to explore partnerships for these programs which could be a source of non-dilutive capital in the future.”

The layoffs and pared-back pipeline are expected to extend the company’s cash runway into the fourth quarter of 2023, according to a first quarter 2022 report. The biotech had cash, cash equivalents and marketable securities of approximately $210 million as of March 31.

A fibrosis-focused research collaboration with Gilead—which ended in December—meant Scholar Rock took in revenue of $33.2 million for the quarter compared with $4.7 million for the same period in 2021.

Scholar Rock used the same first-quarter report to announce that Chief Medical Officer Yung Chyung, M.D., is stepping down to explore new career opportunities. Chyung will remain with the biotech through June 30 to work on a transition plan, and a search for his replacement is ongoing, the company said.

To read more about layoffs across the biotech industry, check out Fierce Biotech's Layoff Tracker.