Amgen Exits Neuroscience R&D, Plans to Cut 149 Jobs in Boston Area

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Amgen submitted a Worker Adjustment and Retraining (WARN) filing with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, indicating it planned to lay off 149 employees effective December 31, 2019. This comes only shortly after the company announced it was ending its neuroscience research.

According to a report in the San Fernando Valley Business Journal, the company, which has headquarters in Thousand Oaks, California, has spent the last five years increasing its presence in New England, shifting staff from California to Kendall Square in Cambridge. Some of the people being laid off have been offered relocation to other sites in North America. The Cambridge site will continue to work with a “process development presence” for pipeline products and next-generation technology.

The decision to exit the neuroscience space was announced in the company’s third-quarter financial report. “Upon careful evaluation of our pipeline and the challenges inherent in developing drugs for major neurologic diseases, we’ve made the decision to end our neuroscience research and early development programs with the exception of programs centered on neuro-inflammation,” David Reese, the company’s R&D head, said in the conference call.

Unfortunately, this makes Amgen yet another major biopharma company to exit or slim down work on neurological diseases. Others include Pfizer, Bristol-Myers Squibb, GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca.

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In July 2019, Amgen, Novartis and the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute announced they were halting two pivotal Phase II/III clinical trials in the Alzheimer’s Prevention Initiative Generation Program. The studies were evaluating the BACE1 inhibitor umibecestat (CNP520). An analysis of unblinded data during a scheduled review showed that the patients were getting worse in some of the measures of cognitive function, the opposite of what they were hoping. The three organizations jointly decided that any patient benefit wasn’t worth the risk.

The Amgen and Novartis Neuroscience Collaboration launched in August 2015 to develop and market treatments for migraine and Alzheimer’s disease. Amgen and Novartis sponsor the work in collaboration with Banner Alzheimer’s Institute. Novartis is the regulatory sponsor and Amgen and Novartis are co-development partners.

Beta-amyloid is a protein that accumulates in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients, and was long thought to be the cause of the memory and cognitive issues in the disease. However, much of the science has moved away from that theory as dozens of clinical trials that successfully cleared or halted the production of beta-amyloid failed to make a difference in the patients’ clinical conditions. It is likely that beta-amyloid is still a significant player in the disease, perhaps related to neuroinflammation, but many researchers have moved away from a direct focus on beta-amyloid.

BACE1 inhibitors like umibecestat block BACE1, an enzyme that helps form amyloid plaques.

Shifting resources away from neuroscience, Amgen plans to prioritize efforts on cardiovascular disease, oncology and inflammatory diseases. About 180 positions will be affected in this decision, with 149 of them in Massachusetts.

“We made the difficult decision to end our research in neuroscience, which is largely based in Cambridge, Massachusetts,” a company spokesperson told Biopharma Dive. “We are consolidating our U.S.-based research presence primarily in Thousand Oaks and San Francisco.”

The company plans to keep a hand in the field, although less directly. It has partnerships with several groups, including deCODE, a subsidiary that specializes in genetics. “We believe that genetics will ultimately drive progress in this area, and we’ll continue to work with deCODE to generate insights,” company chief executive officer Bob Bradway said in the conference call.

Amgen will also continue support for its ongoing development of Aimovig (erenumab), its drug approved for migraine.

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