Unity once again lays off large number of staff, narrows focus to ophthalmology assets

A minute after market close Thursday, anti-aging biotech Unity Biotechnology said it was letting go half its workforce and reprioritizing its pipeline to focus on its ophthalmology assets. 

The company's revised vision places nearly all bets on UBX1325 as it looks to extend cash runway into the first quarter of 2023. Unity's shares had already ended the day down 9.4% to $1.06 apiece.

Thursday's layoffs are a harrowing reminder of fall 2020 for the biotech, when Unity got rid of 30% of its employees in September a month after dropping its only clinical-stage program at the time, a failed knee pain asset. Shares went from $12 apiece that August to less than $4 after that staff cut.

Moving forward, UBX1325, a Bcl-xL inhibitor, is slated to have multiple readouts in 2022. That includes results from a phase 2a diabetic macular edema trial by the middle of this year, midstage data in age-related macular degeneration (AMD) by year-end and a readout from a wet AMD cohort in a phase 1 study during the first half of this year. 

The South San Francisco biotech is also placing its bets on a preclinical bispecific program that will support an advanced candidate selection by midyear. 

Unity will pause work on preclinical assets in neurology, including a Jocasta Neuroscience-partnered cognitive disorders drug and another asset intended for neurodegenerative disorders. Work will also halt on two other preclinical eye disease assets, UBX1967 and UBX2050.

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The layoffs will leave Unity with 34 full-time employees by midyear, with the move leading to a one-time benefits and severance charge of about $1.8 million, the company disclosed in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing.

“It was a difficult but prudent decision to align our resources around our ophthalmology programs and I believe this sharpened focus will propel us forward to key milestones including phase 2 data inflection points this year," said Anirvan Ghosh, Ph.D., CEO of Unity, in a statement.