Dynavax cuts staff and cancer R&D, focuses on vaccine

US biotech Dynavax has announced staff cutbacks after deciding to focus on its vaccine business, while winding down its immune-oncology research.

Dynavax already markets Heplisav-B, a recombinant vaccine against hepatitis B, but also has a couple of toll-like receptor 9 (TLR9) cancer drugs in clinical development.

Its pipeline overiew page shows it had been developing SD-101 in combination with Merck & Co’s Keytruda in early clinical trials, and DV281 in combination with Bristol-Myers Squibb’s rival PD-1 cancer immunotherapy Opdivo.

But CEO Eddie Gray, who has also announced his retirement, said the company will now focus on its hepatitis B vaccine business and will not pursue its cancer research any further.

As a result of the decision the company will axe around 82 positions, representing around 37% of its US workforce, primarily in R&D for its immune-oncology drugs and general and administrative functions at a cost of around $5.5 million.

This will reduce its salary overheads by around $16 million annually, and after completing its ongoing oncology trials, R&D costs will be reduced by around $8 million per quarter compared with Q1 2019.

Dynavax will still pay wind-down and committed contractual costs for the immune-oncology trials, including the I-SPY breast cancer trial, which will run through the second quarter of next year.

Gray’s comments suggest that the company will be looking for a buyer for the unwanted cancer drugs.

He said: “The decision to seek strategic alternatives expands the pool of potential investment options to further development of these important assets.”

Gray said that the decision had been made because HEPLISAV-B is gaining market share and is “well positioned to become the new standard of care in the US.”

“We plan to curtail further investment in our immuno-oncology portfolio and will seek strategic alternatives for these programmes.

“As a result, the board and management have made the difficult decision to reduce our workforce. We want to express our deepest appreciation to our employees for their invaluable contributions.”

Gray said he plans to retire as CEO in August, and the company’s board has created an interim role of president, and operations and commercial chief Ryan Spencer will take this role immediately.

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