ASLAN, Aduro Initiate Corporate Restructuring That Includes Significant Layoffs

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Two weeks after its gastric cancer drug failed to hit endpoints in a mid-stage trial, Singapore-based ASLAN Pharmaceuticals is cutting staff and initiating a corporate restructuring and strategic prioritization of its clinical development programs.

This morning the company said it will cut its headcount by 30 percent, which will lower operational costs by about 50 percent. The savings will be used to focus its resources on its lead clinical programs --  varlitinib in biliary tract cancer (BTC), ASLAN003 in acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and ASLAN004 in atopic dermatitis, the company said. Along with the 30 percent company layoffs, ASLAN said Chief Medical Officer Bertil Lindmark will retire and return to Europe. Chih-Yi Hsieh, currently vice president of medical and general manager of Taiwan operations, will assume the role of acting CMO. Mark McHale, the company’s chief operating officer will assume the role of chief development officer and head of research and development.

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Carl Firth, ASLAN’s chief executive officer, said the company remains committed to using its capital to support the development of its three key assets, varlitinib, ASLAN003 and ASLAN004. Each of the three assets have potential to be “critical value-drivers,” Firth added.  

“We are approaching several significant milestones in 2019 and beyond, so it is important we complete key studies over the next two years. Restructuring the organization has involved some tough decisions. It is difficult to lose outstanding members of the team who have contributed to ASLAN over the years and have tackled some of the most challenging obstacles to advancing new treatments for cancer,” Firth said in a statement.

The move came after Varlitinib, the company’s first-line therapy for HER1/HER2 co-expressing cancer tumors failed to meet endpoints. Varlitinib (ASLAN001), a highly potent, oral, reversible, small molecule pan-HER inhibitor, combined with mFOLFOX6 shrunk tumors by an average of 22 percent compared to 12.5 percent shrinkage by mFOLFOX6 alone, but that did not reach statistical significance.

ASLAN said it will focus on the late-stage development of varlitinib as a potential novel treatment for first- and second-line biliary tract cancer. Phase Ib results of a study of varlitinib as a first-line treatment for BTC which demonstrated that varlitinib increased objective response rate compared to standard of care. The clinical development of ASLAN003 in AML and ASLAN004 in atopic dermatitis remains on track.  ASLAN expects to complete the first part of the Phase II study of ASLAN003 in AML and the Phase I SAD study of ASLAN004 in the first half of 2019.

ASLAN isn’t the only company initiating a restructuring. Also announced today, California-based Aduro Biotech said it will institute a “strategic reset” to focus on its core strengths of the discovery and development of novel product candidates in the stimulator of interferon genes (STING) and a proliferation-inducing ligand (APRIL) pathways. As a result of the strategic reset, Aduro has reduced its current workforce by approximately 37 percent and redirected resources to its lead programs.

“We are committed to maintaining a leadership role in the STING and APRIL pathways, and generating multiple clinical data readouts over the next several years. The strategic reset will also allow us to explore new partnership opportunities for our deprioritized programs, including pLADD, ADU-1604 (anti-CTLA-4) and ADU-1805 (anti-SIRPα). While this was a difficult decision, I want to thank the employees who are leaving for their contributions to Aduro,” Stephen T. Isaacs, chairman, president and CEO of Aduro said in a statement.

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