Selecta lays off 25% as unpartnered gene therapies take a back seat

An analyst has reiterated that Selecta Biosciences' portfolio is “promising” despite the biotech offloading a quarter of its workforce along with non-partnered gene therapy programs.

The company, which has ongoing partnerships with Sobi and Astellas, is refocusing the business to extend its cash runway into the second half of 2025, according to a first-quarter earnings report. Selecta ended March with $127.5 million to hand in cash and equivalents.

Investment will now be prioritized for a thinner field of candidates, including SEL-212, which Sobi licensed for $100 million upfront in 2020. The drug is a formulation of the immunogenic enzyme pegadricase and biodegradable nanoparticles encapsulating the immunomodulator rapamycin that the biotech calls ImmTOR. It recently hit the primary endpoint in a pair of phase 3 trials that suggest the potential to take on Horizon Therapeutics’ gout drug Krystexxa.

Selecta remains on track to submit an approval submission to the FDA in the first half of 2024, the biotech said in the report.

The company will also prioritize development of a combination of ImmTOR and Selecta’s Treg-selective IL-2, which is due to begin IND-enabling studies this year. Selecta wants to explore the drug’s potential in a variety of autoimmune indications, starting with the liver.

Meanwhile, the biotech will continue to work on its IgG protease. The protease, dubbed Xork, was tapped up by Astellas in January to be investigated with the Japanese pharma’s adeno-associated virus (AAV)-based treatment in Pompe disease.

Out of the running are Selecta’s own gene therapy programs, including SEL-302, an AAV gene therapy in a phase 1/2 trial in combination with ImmTOR for the treatment of an inherited disorder called methylmalonic acidemia.

The company is “currently assessing ways to support further development of these programs through potential partnerships,” the report said.

Selecta CEO Carsten Brunn, Ph.D., said the decision to wave goodbye to 25% of the biotech’s workforce as part of the restructuring was “extremely difficult.”

“As the only immune tolerance platform with positive phase 3 data, we firmly believe in the potential of our pipeline of candidates powered by our ImmTOR technology,” Brunn added in the release. “As we continue to navigate the current market environment, we have undertaken the strategic decision to focus our resources in the areas where we believe we have the highest potential to succeed in delivering meaningful therapies to the patients we aim to serve.”

Responding to the biotech’s latest move, Mizuho analyst Uy Ear said they continue to believe “the potential of Selecta's assets is promising.”

“In our view, the decision to prioritize ImmTOR-IL for T-cell mediated autoimmune liver diseases would provide multiple shots on goal,” Ear added in a note Thursday evening.