AbbVie Cuts 178 Stemcentrx Employees Months After Rova-T Failure

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AbbVie is slashing 178 jobs from its Stemcentrx subsidiary in South San Francisco.

The cuts are not surprising, given that in December the company was forced to halt a Phase III study of Rovalpituzumab Tesirine (Rova-T) due to shorter overall survival in the Rova-T arm. That forced AbbVie to write off about $4 billion of the $5.8 billion it paid upfront to acquire Stemcentrx in 2016. AbbVie quietly announced the cuts in a WARN notice filed March 20 with the Employment Development Department of California. The layoffs will go into effect on April 5.

AbbVie acquired Stemcentrx for Rova-T, which it was investigating as a second-line therapy for advanced small-cell lung cancer. When AbbVie acquired Stemcentrx, Rova-T was being investigated as a potential third-line treatment in SCLC where there was no approved therapy Rova-T is an antibody-drug conjugate that targets the cancer stem cell-associated target delta-like protein 3 (DLL3). That protein is found in more than 80 percent of small-cell lung cancer (SCLC) patient tumors.

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Since the acquisition of Stemcentrx, which could have been worth nearly $10 billion if Rova-T panned out, Illinois-based AbbVie has been working to consolidate its Bay Area presence. Last year the company leased a significant amount of space in the Gateway of Pacific development in South San Francisco. AbbVie plans to use the space as a research center and as a “collection site” for Bay Area companies that fall under its umbrella, such as Pharmacyclics and StemCentrx.

At the time the deal to acquire Stemcentrx was struck, AbbVie Chief Executive Officer Richard Gonzales said Rova-T would provide AbbVie with a “unique platform in solid tumor therapeutics and complement our leadership position in hematologic oncology.” Gonzales also predicted the acquisition of Stemcentrx would “strengthen and accelerate our ability to deliver innovative therapies that will have a remarkable impact on patients’ lives.” AbbVie had hoped that Rova-T would be an effective treatment across multiple cancers where expression of DLL3 was high, such as metastatic melanoma, glioblastoma multiforme, prostate, pancreatic and colorectal cancers. In those cancers, DLL3 expression ranges from 50-80 percent.

Rova-T though has proven to be a disappointment for AbbVie. Not only did it flunk in the Phase III trial, nearly one year ago AbbVie said it would not seek accelerated approval for Rova-T in third-line relapsed/refractory (R/R) small cell lung cancer (SCLC) following disappointing Phase II results. The Phase II TRINITY trial assessed Rova-T in patients with a relapsed/refractory form of the disease after receiving at least two previous treatments. The trial showed a 16 percent objective response rate and median overall survival of 5.6 months in patients who had received the treatment.

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