Surface tension: Biotech cuts 20% of workforce, drops anti-tumor antibody

Another week, another layoff announcement. This time it’s Surface Oncology, which has cited the decision to pause work on anti-tumor antibody SRF617 as the reason for waving goodbye to a fifth of its staff.

As recently as August, the company had been promising a clinical update in the final quarter of the year for the CD39-targeting antibody, which was in a phase 1 trial as a monotherapy for advanced solid tumors and a phase 2 trial in combination with Arcus Biosciences’ etrumadenant and zimberelimab to treat prostrate cancer. But, now, the company is looking for potential partners to offload the therapy onto.

Halting work on SRF617, combined with the related layoffs, will help Surface extend its cash runway into the second quarter of 2024.

“While we continue to believe SRF617 holds therapeutic potential in a variety of tumor types, we have made the strategic decision to pause internal development of that program and focus our efforts on SRF388 and SRF114,” CEO Rob Ross, M.D., said in a third-quarter earnings release. “As a result, we are implementing a corresponding reduction in our workforce.”

Back in December 2021, the company was upbeat about SRF617’s prospects, pointing to promising signs of activity as a monotherapy and in combination with chemotherapy and Merck & Co.’s Keytruda. Surface also highlighted plans to enroll a phase 2 cohort in PD-1-naive gastric cancer and patients with PD-1 relapsed/refractory gastric or non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC), with the potential to expend the study to pancreatic cancer.

With those plans now discarded, Surface is clear to focus the efforts of its remaining workforce on its two remaining assets. One of these is the IL-27-targeting antibody SRF388, which the company said had so far resulted in two partial responses in a nine-participant study in NSCLC. Based on the data, Surface has launched a second stage of the study that aims to enroll 40 patients.

Surface’s other candidate is the CCR8-targeting antibody SRF114, which was cleared by the FDA last month to enter human trials. The biotech expects to enroll the first patient in a trial soon, although today’s release did not provide details of the indication.

As well as those two wholly owned assets, Surface has a couple of Big Pharma partnerships in phase 1 development in the form of a CD73-targeting collaboration with Novartis and a PVRIG-targeting antibody with GSK.