Band of biotechs cut pipeline prospects to focus cash on priority programs

12 August 2022

Nick Paul Taylor / FierceBiotech

Preparing for a prolonged bear market, a raft of biotechs have decided candidates that looked good a few months ago are now an extravagance, leading them to pull back from the programs. Bolt Biotherapeutics, which canned assets to extend its runway into 2025, was one of list of biotechs that have announced pipeline changes since markets closed yesterday, including ProQR Therapeutics, Harpoon Therapeutics, Kala Pharmaceuticals and Synthetic Biologics.

The focus of the Dutch biotech keeps getting narrower. Having decided to prioritize genetic eye diseases and RNA editing technology in April, putting 30% of its employees out of a job in the process, ProQR is now seeking a partner for the ophthalmology programs.

The biotech decided to focus exclusively on its Axiomer RNA editing technology after the European Medicines Agency recommended it run an additional trial of its retinal disease therapy sepofarsen before filing for approval. The feedback led the biotech to start winding down clinical trials of sepofarsen and its other eye disease candidate ultevursen to preserve cash while seeking a partner for the portfolio.

The winding down of the ophthalmology programs leaves ProQR all in on its RNA editing technology. The work is at the preclinical stage but, with the eye disease changes triggering further cuts, ProQR calculates it has enough cash to last until 2026, giving it time to demonstrate the potential of the technology.

Harpoon
 

The need for continued dose optimization of cancer therapy HPN536 has persuaded Harpoon to start looking for a partner rather than continue to plow its own cash into the drug program in the “challenging biotech environment.” Harpoon made the decision after completing escalation in fixed and step-dosing regimens in a phase 1/2 solid tumor trial.

While Harpoon noted “promising pharmacodynamic signals of T cell engagement,” the dose-escalation study also revealed the need for further optimization of the dose and schedule. The biotech wants to find a partner to develop HPN536 in monotherapy and combination studies. 


Kala
 

The decision to focus R&D spending on KPI-012, KPI-014 and a mesenchymal stem cell secretome platform led Kala to stop development of other preclinical programs. Kala’s culled R&D programs include KPI-287, a receptor tyrosine kinase inhibitor, and selective glucocorticoid receptor modulators. KPI-287 was in development as a treatment of retinal diseases.


Synthetic Biologics
 

Having bought VCN Biosciences earlier this year for its clinical-stage oncolytic adenovirus, Synthetic Biologics has decided to prioritize its oncology program. The rest of the biotech’s pipeline includes SYN-004, a drug designed to prevent Clostridioides difficile infection and acute graft-versus-host-disease.

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