Wilex cuts 80% of its staff as it pulls the plug on a once-promising cancer therapy

Munich's Wilex is cutting its losses after repeated setbacks for its kidney cancer drug, planning to lay off 80% of its employees and discontinue clinical development.

The move will cut Wilex's 51-member staff down to 10, the company said, and once its tiered exit from clinical activities is through, the drug developer will be able to keep its doors open until at least the second half of 2015. From there, Wilex will essentially operate as a CRO, providing contract services and licensing out its antibody-drug conjugate technology to generate some revenue.

The problem, as is often the case, revolves around cash: Wilex doesn't have enough of it to fund the development of Rencarex, a renal cell carcinoma treatment that failed a Phase III study in late 2012. And despite "intensive efforts" to woo investors, Wilex's current path would put it out of business by the third quarter of this year, the company said.

"We are in continuous negotiations with potential partners, but to date we have been unable to close a contract," CEO Olaf Wilhelm said in a statement. "In order to secure a promising future for our company, we have been forced to drastically streamline the Wilex Group's costs and re-define our future direction ... We would like to sincerely thank all of our colleagues affected by these cuts for their many years of dedication and their professional contributions to Wilex AG."

Wilex is retaining a core staff to keep those negotiations open in search of partners or acquirers for Rencarex, the Phase II pancreatic and breast cancer treatment Mesupron, and the in-vivo diagnostic Redectane.

The company, a 2005 Fierce 15 honoree, was originally launched with the help of German billionaire Dietmar Hopp.

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