Massachusetts’ Agenus to Phase Out 20% of Jobs, Shutter Switzerland Facility in Restructuring
March 30, 2017
By Mark Terry, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff
The company intends to focus on its two checkpoint inhibitor antibodies and its vaccine program. Its priorities are on its combination therapies that target CTLA-4 and PD-1. Agenus has two preclinical antibodies that target 4-1BB and TIGIT, as well as AutoSynVax, a neoantigen cancer vaccine at the clinical stage. It is evaluating combination studies with AutoSynVax and Agenus’ checkpoint antibodies.
The jobs, about 20 percent of the company’s workforce, will be phased out over the next six months. As of the end of February, the company employed 255 people.
In addition to the job cuts, Agenus will shutter its Basel, Switzerland site and consolidate key operations to facilities in Cambridge, UK and Lexington, Mass. It also plans to focus on its manufacturing facilities in Berkeley, Calif., in order to ensure GMP readiness. Also, Robert Stein, the company’s president of R&D, will retire and act as a senior R&D advisor.
The company hopes to accelerate the development and commercialization of its product portfolio, make its cash run last longer, create efficiencies, and prepare for commercial manufacturing operations. The cuts and changes are expected to “strengthen the balance sheet by $80 million.”
“These changes to our organizational structure make us a leaner and more focused organization, which is critically important for our next phase of advancement towards commercial readiness,” said Garo Armen, chairman and chief executive officer of Agenus, in a statement. “We will also maintain a focused R&D effort to rapidly generate and develop best of breed novel immuno-oncology candidates. It is important to indicate that as an agile and efficient company we aim to rapidly deliver effective treatments at affordable prices.“
As part of the revised agreement with Stein, Agenus will immediately pay him $250,000, as well as the full premium for his medical and dental insurance plans for 15 months. As per the consulting deal, he will receive a monthly retainer of about $35,400, which has an initial term of 15 months. His equity in the company will continue to vest during the term of the consulting agreement.
The company released its fourth-quarter and year-end financials on March 9. It reported 2016 revenue of $22.6 million, down from $24.8 million in 2015. Operating losses for the year were $107.5 million, up from $80.8 million the year before.
2017 is expected to be a busy year, with plans to begin a Phase I dose-escalation trial for anti-PD-1 antagonist AGEN2034, the launch of a Phase Ib combination trial with AGEN1884 (CTLA-4) and AGEN2034 (PD-1), another Phase I trial for AutoSynVax, the start of a cervical cancer trial for PD-1 monotherapy in the second half of the year, and readouts from AutoSynVax immunogenicity in the second half.
Agenus also amended its collaboration deal with Incyte, which resulted in $80 million in cash. That broke down to $60 million from an equity investment at $6 per share in addition to $20 million in accelerated clinical development milestones for the GITR and OX40 programs.
The company also began a research collaboration with UCB to advance the development of multi-specific therapeutic antibodies.
“Actions we took last year put us on a path to register our lead antibodies that target CGLA-4 and PD-1 in the next four years,” Armen said in a statement. “We also advanced programs directed at novel targets, such as 4-1BB and TIGIT, and upgraded our Berkeley manufacturing facility. As we enter 2017, we have strengthened our balance sheet with our recently announced Incyte transaction resulting in a cash infusion of $80 million and a reduction of our cash burn rate for 2017 and beyond.”