Troubled Rigel axes 30 staffers as it maps R&D comeback strategy

After a pair of painful setbacks in the clinic this year, South San Francisco-based Rigel Pharmaceuticals ($RIGL) is axing 30 staffers and redirecting its R&D strategy in an effort to find a few winners in the pipeline.

The reorganization is aimed at shaving expenses at the biotech, which had $251 million in cash and equivalents--enough to get into 2016--at the end of June. To accomplish that, the biotech is taking the axe to its discovery staff, handing out pink slips to 18% of its staff. In addition, the developer has come up with a new R&D strategy for fostamatinib after AstraZeneca ($AZN) washed its hands of its partnership on the drug following weak results from a Phase III program on rheumatoid arthritis.

Rigel's shares were down slightly by late morning. The stock is down 67% over the past year.

Rigel is now planning a Phase III study of fostamatinib for immune thrombocytopenic purpura, which it believes can be completed in 2015.The rheumatoid arthritis and lymphoma programs for the drug are being dumped. Two ongoing Phase II studies of R333, a topical dermatological JAK/SYK inhibitor for discoid lupus erythematosus, and R348, a topical ophthalmic JAK/SYK inhibitor for dry eye, should read out late this year or in the second quarter of 2014. And Rigel wants to select one of them to move ahead into Phase III either later in 2014 or in 2015.

"Strategically, we have made a decision to concentrate our resources on the programs that we believe hold the greatest potential for a near term path to market," said James M. Gower, chairman and chief executive officer of Rigel.  "The size and scope of these clinical programs are such that we can fund and manage them in-house, thereby maintaining control and flexibility over their development." 

- here's the press release