Biopharma layoff tracker 2023: Sangamo, Galapagos, Pfizer and more cut staff
Published: Nov 02, 2023
By BioSpace Editorial Staff
2022 saw myriad ups and downs in terms of the economy, and as it ebbed and flowed, so too did the job market. This trend has continued throughout 2023.
The year kicked off with mass layoffs in the tech industry, leaving many wondering if the same was in store for the biopharma industry. Fortunately, though layoff announcements have been steady, the biotech sector has not seen nearly the same troughs.
BioSpace will continue to be your source of news on job cuts and restructuring initiatives through 2023. Follow along as we keep you up to date on which companies are tightening their belts and cutting staff.
Sangamo Therapeutics is shuttering its Brisbane, California headquarters and cutting its U.S. workforce by approximately 162 people—40% of its total headcount—the company announced Wednesday. Among those to be let go are Chief Operating Officer D. Mark McClung and Chief Scientific Officer Jason Fontenot.
As part of the restructuring, Sangamo will transition its headquarters to its Richmond, California facility and cease investment for now in its investigative treatment for Fabry disease and in CAR-Treg cell therapy as it searches for partners to continue development of those programs. The company will instead focus on “epigenetic regulation therapies treating neurological diseases and novel AAV capsid delivery technologies,” according to the announcement. Sangamo expects that the restructuring will cut its operating expenses in half, allowing its funds to stretch into the third quarter of 2024.
Galapagos and Alfasigma have signed a letter of intent to transfer Galapagos’s Jyseleca (filgotinib) to Alfasigma. The potential deal, announced by Galapagos on Monday, would involve the transfer of approximately 400 employees to Alfasigma, while 100 others would be laid off. “Looking ahead, the planned transaction is expected to free up significant resources across the organization, enabling us to invest more in our R&D growth areas, business development and M&A,” said Galapagos CEO and Chairman Paul Stoffels in the company’s announcement.
Jyseleca is marketed in Europe and Japan for rheumatoid arthritis and ulcerative colitis. Earlier this year, it failed to meet primary endpoints in a Phase III trial for Crohn’s disease.
“Pfizer is in the process of closing its Peapack, New Jersey facility that will go in effect in early 2024,” a company spokesperson said in a statement to BioSpace. “The vast majority of colleagues will be re-assigned to Pfizer’s New York headquarters at 66 Hudson Yards with a small portion transitioning to the company’s Parsippany, NJ site. This follows a previously communicated decision in 2021 of plans to sell the Peapack campus.” The spokesperson added that if employees do not want to be reassigned to a different site, their employment will terminate.
The facility closure coincides with the company’s announcement two weeks ago that it will be cutting $3.5 billion in costs due to disappointing sales of the COVID-19 therapeutic Paxlovid, as well as the Comirnaty vaccine. New Jersey is far from the only site to feel the effects of the cuts; Fierce Pharma notes that Pfizer has also announced the closure of two facilities in North Carolina and reported an unspecified number of layoffs in Colorado.
Correction (Oct. 30): This story has been updated from its original version to reflect the fact that 791 employees are not being laid off in New Jersey, but rather are being transferred to new work sites. BioSpace regrets the error.
ElevateBio is cutting 13% of its workforce, a company spokesperson told Fierce Biotech Thursday. The Massachusetts-based company is involved in gene editing, RNA, cell, vector engineering, protein and induced pluripotent stem cell technologies; it is not clear how many employees it has. The cuts, to staff involved in the company’s preclinical work, come despite a $401 million Series D financing round that closed in May.
“Our financial position and balance sheet are very strong and we are experiencing robust customer and revenue growth,” the spokesperson told Fierce Biotech.
The layoffs will affect Horizon roles that overlap with existing teams at Amgen, a company spokesperson told Fierce Pharma. More than 80% of Horizon’s staff will be absorbed into Amgen roles, “reflecting the knowledge and capabilities we need to continue serving patients suffering from rare diseases,” a spokesperson for the California-based biopharma said. At the end of 2022, Horizon had more than 2,100 employees, according to an SEC filing.
This is Amgen’s third round of layoffs this year.
BrainStorm Cell Therapeutics will lay off 30% of its staff, the Israel and New York–based company announced Tuesday. The cost-cutting measure narrows the company’s focus in the wake of a vote by an FDA advisory committee last month against approving its amyotrophic lateral sclerosis candidate NurOwn, and BrainStorm’s subsequent decision to withdraw its Biologics License Application and conduct a Phase IIIb clinical trial on the therapy.
According to the company’s announcement, the layoffs are part of “a strategic realignment to enable accelerated development of NurOwn.” Among those let go is EVP and Chief Medical Officer Kirk Taylor, whose responsibilities included leading launch activities.
As of June 30, BrainStorm reported that it had 44 employees between the U.S. and Israel.
Idorsia Pharmaceuticals has reduced the workforce at its headquarters in Switzerland by half, the company announced on Tuesday. “Approximately 475 positions at headquarters in Allschwil, Switzerland, have been made redundant through a combination of canceling open positions, not replacing people who are known to leave (outside the mass dismissal), and up to 300 terminations mainly in Research & Development and the associated support functions,” the announcement states.
Endpoints News noted that sales of Idorsia’s insomnia drug, Quviviq, have so far been disappointing. According to the company’s announcement, its cash runway now extends into next year. “Our short-term priority is to further extend our cash runway and we are actively reviewing all avenues including potential out-license deals with a few balls in the air that we expect to catch in the upcoming months,” Chief Financial Officer André C. Muller said in the statement.
Base-editing company Beam Therapeutics will lay off about 100 employees—20% of its workforce—it announced on Thursday. The move is part of a restructuring plan aimed at funding the company into 2026. Beam’s priorities going forward will include development of its sickle cell disease programs, a base editor to treat alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency and in vivo editing to treat liver disorders, while its hepatitis B program “will be paused and designated for partnering,” according to the announcement. Reuters reported that shares of the company declined by 2.4% in premarket trading Thursday.
Cell therapy company Nkarta is laying off 18 people, about 10% of its staff, it revealed in an SEC filing. The morning after the filing, the company announced that the FDA has cleared its Investigational New Drug application for NKX019, its CAR NK cell therapy candidate for lupus nephritis. The announcement also notes “cost containment measures designed to extend its projected cash runway by one year into 2026.” Nkarta President and CEO Paul Hastings told Fierce Biotech that the workforce cuts will take place “across the board,” in accordance with the company’s aim to focus on its later-stage programs.
Nkarta’s stock price rose by 112% following its announcement of the FDA clearance, Fierce Biotech reported.
Pfizer said the “multi-year, enterprise-wide cost realignment program” will involve layoffs, though it is still unclear how many employees will be affected. As of August 1, Pfizer employed approximately 83,000 people worldwide.
Sana Biotechnology will lay off 29% of its workforce—approximately 120 people—as part of a portfolio realignment initiative, the company announced on Tuesday. Sana will narrow its R&D focus to its ex vivo cell therapy platform and move away from an in vivo gene delivery program with an eye toward reducing its 2024 operating cash burn to below $200 million. According to the company, this will allow Sana’s current cash runway to extend further into 2025 while also providing leeway for investments in clinical capabilities across various indications.
Tuesday’s downsizing follows a previous round of layoffs in August, which was first revealed through a series of LinkedIn posts made by company employees. Sana later confirmed the downsizing to Endpoints News, but did not disclose exactly how many were let go. The biotech also underwent a strategic reorganization in November 2022, which included a workforce reduction of around 15%.
Biogen is laying off 113 employees from Reata Pharmaceuticals‘ Plano, Texas site, according to a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification notice. The layoffs, set to take effect in late November, come just months after Biogen acquired Reata for $7.3 billion in July 2023.
At the time, Biogen had just launched a sweeping cost-reduction program that involved terminating around 1,000 employees in an effort to save $1 billion in operating expenses by 2025. Late last month, Biogen completed the acquisition of Reata. At the end of 2022, Reata had 321 employees, according to its annual report to the SEC.
Eikon Therapeutics has laid off some of its staff in a bid for efficiency, Fierce Biotech reported. The outlet obtained an Oct. 5 internal letter to staff from Eikon CEO Roger Perlmutter that reads in part, “As I discussed at the all-hands meeting last month, our recent success in advancing new programs requires that we become more selective in allocating our resources,” and “the plain fact is that our company, like all companies, must evolve to become more efficient.”
Eikon, which emerged from stealth in 2021, uses live-cell super-resolution microscopy and engineering for drug development, but Fierce Biotech calls it “famously tight-lipped about the discovery process.” The company has a Toll-like receptor (TLR) agonist in a Phase I trial to treat advanced solid tumors, and last month announced that it has integrated TLR 7 and 8 co-agonists into its clinical development program and that it plans to begin a Phase I trial on its PARP1 inhibitor—another experimental cancer drug developed with Impact Therapeutics—this year.
North Carolina-based gene therapy biotech Atsena Therapeutics recently laid off an undisclosed number of employees to conserve cash, multiple sources reported Thursday. Atsena has also raised about $24.5 million of a targeted $32 million in an insider-led Series B round, the company told Endpoints News. Atsena is expecting data from a Phase I/II trial of its lead program, ATSN-101, targeting the retinal disease Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA) by the end of this year, Endpoints reported. It kicked off another Phase I/II trial of a second gene therapy, ATSN-201, for RS1-associated X-linked retinoschisis (XLRS)—a rare congenital retinal disease—in August.
uniQure is laying off 114 people, about 20% of its total workforce, the gene therapy company announced Thursday. The company “will discontinue more than half of its research and technology projects, including AMT-210 for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease and multiple undisclosed programs,” according to the announcement, while focusing on AAV capsid development and treatments in development for ALS and Alzheimer’s disease. uniQure will also continue several clinical-stage programs, including an investigational treatment for Huntington’s currently in Phase I/II trials.
The company said the moves will save $180 million, extending its cash runway into 2027. As part of the restructuring, Chief Scientific Officer Ricardo Dolmetsch is leaving the company, and uniQure executive Richard Porter will assume a new role as chief business and scientific officer.
Kezar Life Sciences is laying off 41% of its workforce and its CEO and chief medical officer will step down as part of a restructuring, the company announced Tuesday. Kezar has paused all of its research and drug discovery efforts, according to the announcement, as it focuses on shoring up enough funds for its Phase IIb clinical trial of the experimental drug zetomipzomib in lupus nephritis. The company anticipates having top-line data from that trial in mid-2026, with data from its Phase I trial of a drug for solid tumors and a Phase IIa trial of zetomipzomib in autoimmune hepatitis expected in the meantime.
Company co-founder and member of the board Christopher Kirk will replace fellow co-founder John Fowler as CEO, and Zung To, the current senior vice president for clinical development operations, will step into the role of chief medical officer.
Syros Pharmaceuticals is laying off 35% of its workforce, and its CEO and chief science officer are also departing, the company announced Monday. Syros said it is ending a Phase I trial of a potential treatment for a type of leukemia, as well as earlier-stage work on that drug, to focus on tamibarotene, another blood cancer treatment that is currently in Phase II and III trials.
CEO Nancy Simonian, who has led the company since 2012, will retire in December, the company said, but she will remain on the board of directors. Replacing her will be Conley Chee, currently Syros’ chief commercial officer and chief business officer. Chief Scientific Officer Eric Olson will depart the company later this month. Syros had 117 employees as of the end of 2022, according to its most recent SEC filing.