Cyteir lays off 70% of workforce after further narrowing cancer drug goals

Cyteir lays off 70% of workforce after further narrowing cancer drug goals

Back in the summer, Cyteir Therapeutics announced that it was pressing pause on plans to get one of its cancer meds into the clinic. But it’s only now that we’re seeing the fallout of the decision to focus on its lead ovarian cancer asset—in the form of laying off 70% of its workforce.

The biotech reaffirmed the prioritization of CYT-0851 in a postmarket release yesterday. The monocarboxylate transporter inhibitor in combination with capecitabine chemotherapy had produced “encouraging preliminary clinical activity” in a small number of patients with advanced ovarian cancer in a phase 1 dose-escalation study, the company noted.

Cyteir now plans to enroll more patients in the first half of the year to see whether the clinical results are sustained. The aim is to identify a maximum tolerated dose for the capecitabine combo in the next three months and push through to development and market as an oral treatment for platinum-resistant ovarian cancer.

The biotech also has a separate phase 1 trial running of CYT-0851 in combination with gemcitabine chemotherapy in solid tumors, for which 10 patients have so far been treated. Dosing data from this trial may be used as part of Cyteir’s development plans for the therapy.

But going all-in on CYT-0851 as a combo treatment for ovarian cancer comes at a price. To extend the biotech’s cash runway into 2026, Cyteir is reducing its head count to just 15 employees as well as halting R&D work on identifying inhibitors of DNA damage repair.

“We are encouraged by these early signals and believe that an initial focus on the combination of CYT-0851 and capecitabine represents the greatest likelihood of success and an opportunity to serve patients with advanced ovarian cancer that have a high unmet medical need,” CEO Markus Renschler, M.D., said in the release.

“This strategic prioritization and the difficult decision to reduce our workforce is expected to extend our cash runway into 2026 and, if supported by the data and regulatory feedback, allows us to advance CYT-0851 into a potentially registrational trial as early as the second half of 2024.”

Also left by the wayside are plans to develop CYT-0851 as a monotherapy in solid tumors. The biotech is suspending a phase 2 trial due to insufficient activity, it said in the same release.

Change was already in the air at Cyteir last August when the company announced it would halt work on CYT-1853. The biotech had originally laid out plans to get the monocarboxylate transporter inhibitor into the clinic by the end of 2022, but the candidate was sacrificed to save cash.

After raising $29 million in early 2018, Cyteir joined the public biotech boom just as it was beginning to slide, closing a $133.2 million IPO in June 2021. Since then, the company’s shares have crumbled, falling from $17.40 to $1.53. Cyteir ended 2022 with $147 million in cash and equivalents, although the redundancies are likely to skim off up to $3 million in the coming weeks.

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