Mass Layoffs as Dutch Biotech Cancels Phase III Cell Therapy Trial

The Dutch company Kiadis Pharma has discontinued the development of a cell therapy in blood cancer, laid off half of its workforce, and switched focus to other, less advanced cell therapy programs.

The abandoned phase III trial was testing Kiadis Pharma’s lead cell therapy for the treatment of graft-versus-host disease, a complication of stem cell transplants such as bone marrow transplants where donor immune cells attack the patient’s body. In particular, the trial aimed to demonstrate that Kiadis’ cell therapy was better at treating the condition in blood cancer patients than cyclophosphamide, an immunosuppressant and chemotherapy drug in current use.

After reviewing published data, Kiadis concluded that cyclophosphamide treatments show better patient survival than the company thought when it had planned the phase III trial. As a result, Kiadis would need a much bigger trial to show superiority, and there was little point in completing the current one.

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By shelving its lead therapy, Kiadis aims to cut clinical costs. The company will further reduce its cash burn rate by letting go of half of its employees. “We expect that as a result of the restructuring, our cash runway will be lengthened,” a representative from Kiadis told me.

The company’s new focus is other cell therapies for the treatment of blood cancer that Kiadis obtained when it acquired the US biotech Cytosen Therapeutics earlier this year. The therapies are based on a type of immune cell called natural killer cells, which hunt cancer cells and arm the rest of the immune system against tumors. Kiadis’ most advanced program, a therapy using natural killer cells to reduce blood cancer relapse after bone marrow transplants, will enter a phase I/II trial in 2020.

After a €28M private placement to fund its phase III trial in May, Kiadis has ended up in a very difficult situation. Trouble flared up in mid-October when the company announced that the EMA wouldn’t consider the conditional approval of its lead program. That, plus the recent phase III cancellation and layoffs, has wiped over 70% from Kiadis’ stock price on Euronext since October. It could take a long time for the company to recover from this latest blow.


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