Setbacks force AVI BioPharma to ax staffers in restructuring effort

RNA drug developer AVI BioPharma buried the lead in a press release Friday. After touting a new hire--Jayant Aphale, Ph.D.--at some length, the Bothell, WA-based biotech tersely noted that 28% of the company's workforce was being axed in a restructuring. That move will cost the jobs of about 35 of the 125 staffers at the company, which has been dealt a pair of painful setbacks in recent months.

AVI missed out on a $500 million government contract for an RNA-based pandemic flu treatment, notes Xconomy's Luke Timmerman, who first ferreted out the news yesterday. And then the biotech was dealt another blow when it failed to overturn a patent claim by Prosensa that it owns a stake in AVI's lead muscular dystrophy program.

"With our stock price at 52-week lows, and the recent disappointing news of not getting the flu contract, combined with Prosensa's success in defending their patent in Europe related to Exon 51 (our lead program), we felt it was important to reprioritize/refocus on the primary value-driving programs of DMD, Ebola, and Marburg," AVI CEO Chris Garabedian told Timmerman in an email.

In its statement, AVI noted that the layoffs will help the developer focus more on rare and infectious diseases. Its lead RNA program is targeted at Duchenne muscular dystrophy and AVI is pursuing other programs for Ebola and the Marburg virus. A number of RNA companies have been struggling to raise funds recently as Big Pharma players exited the field.

- read the press release
- here's the Xconomy story from Timmerman