Active Biotech axes 84% of staff in retreat from R&D

Active Biotech (STO:ACTI) has dramatically stepped up its retreat from R&D. Having dropped a pair of clinical-phase assets last year, disappointing data from a Phase III trial of tasquinimod have prompted Active Biotech to take an ax to its research operation, laying off 84% of its staff in the process.

Active Biotech CEO Tomas Leanderson

Lund, Sweden-based Active Biotech plans to lay off 47 of its 56 staff by the end of the year, with just a small commercial team surviving the cull. The cuts effectively amount to a decision by Active Biotech to hunker down and hope its partner Teva ($TEVA) finally manages to bring laquinimod to market. Active Biotech is still hoping to strike outlicensing deals for paquinimod and Anyara. But with in-house work on the programs stopping last year and Active Biotech adding its preclinical ISI project to the scrapheap this week, laquinimod, the CNS immunomodulator groomed by Teva as a successor to Copaxone, is now Active Biotech's last hope.

The situation is the result of a swift, brutal fall for Active Biotech and its pipeline. At the start of 2014, laquinimod appeared to be nearing approval in Europe, the Ipsen (EPA:IPN)-partnered tasquinimod was progressing through a Phase III trial and paquinimod was heading toward the wrapping up of an early-stage study and receipt of orphan drug status. Just 18 months later, only laquinimod remains at the forefront of Active Biotech's thoughts. And, with the drug having faced more downs than ups in its advance through the clinic, its future is uncertain.

Teva has persisted with laquinimod despite the repeated setbacks and the drug could still deliver a long-awaited payday for Active Biotech. The drug is currently being trialled in patients with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis. While Active Biotech waits on those data, it will operate with a skeleton staff and narrow focus that are expected to cost it SEK 50 million ($5.8 million) a year less than its current business.

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