TCR² removed 20% of staff over summer, paving way for latest layoffs

TCR² Therapeutics appeared to become the latest biotech to make major staff reductions last week as it laid out its clinical and corporate vision for the new year. But Fierce Biotech can reveal that it was in fact the second round of layoffs at the company in less than six months, after TCR² quietly removed a fifth of its staff in August. 

Chief Financial Officer Eric Sullivan confirmed to Fierce Biotech in a statement that there was a “modest reduction in headcount” in August 2022 as a result of reduced discovery-stage work. A media contact for the company subsequently clarified that the layoffs hit 20% of the staff and two sources familiar with the decision told Fierce Biotech that the layoffs affected roughly 30 employees.

The newly unearthed round of cuts presents a bleaker corporate picture of TCR² than the company was letting on. The layoffs were not mentioned in the company’s third-quarter earnings report released in November. At the time, the company reported having $176 million in cash and investments on hand, enough to last into 2024.

The latest round of layoffs announced on January 5, 2023—amounting to 40% of remaining staff—extend the runway a year into early 2025, according to TCR². 

Heading into 2022, TCR² had reported a 31% jump in head count and had 137 full-time employees as of March 1, 2022, the vast majority of which worked in R&D. News of the August 2022 layoffs further underscores how bleak last year was for many cell therapy-focused biotechs, with TCR² joining the likes of PACT Pharma and Adaptimmune in being forced to shrink amid a tough bear market. 

Beyond cutting staff, TCR² is narrowing its clinical ambitions, announcing that it will concentrate resources on developing its lead asset, gavo-cell, to treat ovarian cancer. The therapy is currently in a phase 2 trial that originally included cohorts of patients with malignant pleural mesothelioma and bile duct cancer. The company also said it would “gate subsequent material investment” in gavo-cell on evidence showing long-term durability, instead focusing more capital on second-generation assets. 

In September, the company reported a 22% response among patients treated with gavo-cell in a phase 1 trial following chemotherapy depletion. The company said that data supported gavo-cell as a potential first-in-class and best-in-class treatment.