Struggling Poniard lays off more workers as it ponders options

Faced with the fallout from a disastrous Phase III failure for its cancer drug picoplatin last fall, a struggling Poniard Pharmaceuticals (PARD) announced another big restructuring effort this morning, laying off more workers, bringing in Leerink Swann to help evaluate its options and finally suspending its attempt to gain regulatory approval for the cancer program.

Just two months after laying off more than half of its workers, South San Francisco-based Poniard says that it will axe 45 percent of its remaining workforce, leaving 12 people at the company. The company says they will be responsible for pursuing pivotal trials for small cell lung cancer as well as colorectal, prostate, and ovarian cancers. And Leerink Swann will help evaluate how it can go forward, with just about everything on the table: capital raising alternatives, a merger, sale or partnership.

"Picoplatin has demonstrated promising clinical activity, including favorable survival and safety data in small cell lung cancer, as well as in a variety of other solid tumors," said CEO Ronald A. Martell. "This versatility is at the core of the drug's value proposition and what we believe makes it an attractive development candidate."

Leerink Swann's Howard Liang noted last January, however, that the developer only had enough money to make it to the middle of this year, leaving it with no cash on hand for ambitious clinical trial work and a desperate need to find a partner. Investors, meanwhile, have pounded the company's stock after being treated to the trial failure as well as comparison data that demonstrated the drug produced a lower overall survival rate for colorectal cancer patients than standard therapy. Poniard shares were down 14 percent this morning.

- read Poniard's release for more info