Ziopharm's new CEO cuts 50% of workforce amid trial delays for T-cell receptor therapy

After leading Kuur Therapeutics to an exit to Athenex in May, Kevin Boyle is now shuffling more than 50% of his staff at Ziopharm Oncology out the door just 28 days into his post as CEO

The layoffs affect about 60 Ziopharm employees, and the move is expected to cost the biotech about $3.8 million in severance and termination-related costs, the company said in a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filing

Ziopharm's shares dipped about 10% to $1.90 apiece as of 9:41 a.m. ET Tuesday, about 18 hours after the news was initially disclosed. 

"We believe today’s strategic decision was necessary to create an organization structured and staffed for success and focused on the goal of generating clinical data in our promising TCR-T Library program. I am confident in the ability of our highly talented team to execute our strategy," Boyle said in a statement. 

Ziopharm has reeled from clinical trial delays for a T-cell receptor that was expected to enter phase 1/2 studies in six solid tumor indications in the second half of 2021. The timing has now slid to the first half of 2022 amid contract manufacturing issues, the company said Monday. The MD Anderson Cancer Center is helping identify patients for the trial. 

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The layoffs will extend Ziopharm's cash runway into the first half of 2023, the company said.

The biotech previously extended its cash runway into the fourth quarter of 2022 with a $25 million venture debt financing last quarter. The debt financing will be enough to generate and assess initial clinical data from the phase 1/2 trial, Ziopharm said last month. Another $25 million tranche can be tapped into upon clinical milestones, the company said in its second-quarter update.

The trial delays, Boyle's appointment and now the major staff overhaul come after Ziopharm dropped its controlled IL-12 clinical program, including a glioblastoma asset, in the first quarter of this year. That led to a 15% staff reduction, according to an SEC filing.