EPIRUS Biopharma to Slash 40% of Workforce, Suspend Lead Clinical Program and Replaces CEO
May 10, 2016
Epirus focused on the development and commercialization of biosimilar monoclonal antibodies (mAbs). It is shifting its focus to developing biosimilars to treat rare diseases. It will be reallocating company resources toward BOW080, a biosimilar to Alexion Pharmaceuticals (ALXN)’s Soliris for ultra-rare blood disorders, and BOW070, a biosimilar for Genentech (RHHBY)’s Actemra, for Castleman’s disease, a rare lymphoproliferative disorder.
It is also suspending its lead program BOW015, a biosimilar for Johnson & Johnson (JNJ)’s Remicade. It expects to evaluate strategic options for this program, which will include partnerships, divestitures or other options. The company says this is related to cost-savings, not technical reasons, and is ready to go into a global Phase III trial if that becomes strategically possible.
The company’s Remicade biosimilar launched in India, but has yet to launch anywhere else. It reportedly has been used in “more than 1,000 patients” in India.
The company is also cutting 40 percent of its staff. According to a federal filing, non-managers were being offered three months’ salary and health care benefits. However, Epirus was delaying all severance payments based on its ability to raise funds.
Epirus was founded in San Diego, then merged with Cambridge-based Zalicus in July 2014, when it went public. As of March, it had 73 employees; 29 jobs will be cut.
Epirus estimates that the job cuts will create long-term savings of $72 million. As part of the layoffs and various other operational changes, it expects one-time charges of $3 million over the next several months.
Munshi is moving to a San Diego company, Arena Pharmaceuticals (ARNA), as chief executive officer. He will be replaced at Epirus by Scott Rocklage, who has been a board member since 2014. A managing partner at 5AM Ventures, Rocklage was also the founding chief executive officer of Cubist Pharmaceuticals (CBST), which sold to Merck & Co. (MRK) in 2015.
Michael Wyand, the chief technology officer at Epirus, has been promoted to president and chief operating officer.
“We are extremely excited to focus on rare diseases and this represents a significant milestone for both the Company and the community, as there exists an unmet need for cost-effective therapies in the rare disease space,” said Wyand in a statement. “Our initial market research with hematologists indicates that physicians are receptive to, and likely to prescribe biosimilars for, rare diseases. We look forward to paving the way for biosimilars focused in rare diseases.”
Epirus stock dropped at the news. It is currently trading for $1.24. Shares traded on July 16, 2015 for $8.08, dropped to $2.30 on Jan. 13, 2016, and were at $3.17 on April 25.