BioCryst Pharma chops half of staff to cap tumultuous two months

BioCryst Pharmaceuticals ($BCRX) blamed recent setbacks for the company's decision to ax 50% of its workers, according to a release this morning. Its restructuring plans come a week after BioCryst and Presidio Pharmaceuticals jettisoned a $101 million merger agreement that would have brought BioCryst new assets in the sizzling hepatitis C field.

With plans to cut 38 workers, Durham, NC-based BioCryst expects to reduce 2013 spending by 38% to 45% compared with the $40 million it expects to burn through in 2012. The company plans to focus on its top candidates for hereditary angioedema (HAE), BCX4161, and BCX5191 for hepatitis C. It's also holding out hope for a broad-spectrum antiviral called BCX4430.

BioCryst has had a rough go in recent months with its HAE and hep C candidates. The company hit the brakes on early-stage development of BCX5191, an NS5B inhibitor, after U.S. regulators raised toxicity concerns. The company is testing the efficacy of low doses of the compound in hep C-infected chimps, with results expected in early 2013. Next year the company aims to initiate a Phase I study for BCX4161, on which the FDA placed a clinical hold last month because of concerns about compounding at study sites.

In a damaging blow, a late-stage study for its antiflu contender peramivir flamed out last month when advisers saw no reason to continue to the trial because of bleak interim results. By the end of next month the company expects to be done analyzing the data and make a final call on the BARDA-backed program, but its medical chief last month stated that further study was "unlikely."

"The strategic focus and restructuring announced today is based on an evaluation of our programs and operations, following the setbacks in our peramivir and BCX5191 programs, as well as the delay in our BCX4161 program," said Jon Stonehouse, BioCryst's CEO, in a statement. "The restructuring is a necessary but difficult measure that impacts many talented and dedicated BioCryst employees who will be leaving the company."

All the setbacks Stonehouse noted cropped up after the October merger agreement with Presidio, bad timing for things to go wrong. His team plans to talk over next steps later this morning on a conference call with investors.  

- here's the release

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