Bay Area's Rigel Slashes 38% of Workforce; Shifts From R&D to Commercial Operation

Bay Area's Rigel Slashes 38% of Workforce; Shifts from R&D to Commercial Operation September 15, 2016
By Mark Terry, Breaking News Staff

In light of its August 30 announcement that its fostamatinib met its primary endpoints in two Phase III clinical trials, Rigel Pharmaceuticals reported today that it will undergo major restructuring as it shifts from a research-and-discovery company to a commercial organization. As part of that change, it will cut its workforce by 38 percent, slashing 46 jobs, mostly in research.

Rigel, which is headquartered in South San Francisco, has developed fostamatinib, an oral spleen tyrosine kinase (SYK) inhibitor to treat adult chronic and persistent immune thrombocytopenia (ITP). In the most recent studies, 18 percent of patients on the drug reached a stable platelet response compared to placebo. Final results from the second Phase III study are expected in October or November.

“These data demonstrate the potential benefit of fostamatinib for chronic ITP patients who are in need of new treatment options,” Paul Rodriguez, president and chief executive officer of Rigel, said in a statement in August. “We believe that fostamatinib has significant commercial potential given that it has a unique mechanism of action that may work where other products have failed.”

In ITP, the patient’s blood platelets are attacked by the immune system. It affects about 50 to 60,000 adults in the U.S. Current treatments include steroids, blood platelet production boosters (TPOs) and splenectomy.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted the drug Orphan Drug designation. The drug is believed to treat the underlying autoimmune mechanism of ITP.

With the new structural changes, most of Rigel’s development team will be laid off, although a small research department will continue to work on identifying and developing new drugs, and will keep active programs related to immunology and oncology. The changes are expected to create $17 to $20 million in annual savings.

Also, Donald Payam, a co-founder of the company, is retiring from the board of directors and as executive vice president of discovery and research. “Don has been instrumental in creating and maintaining a prolific discovery pipeline throughout Rigel’s history, and we are grateful for all of his expertise and contributions that have led us to this important stage,” Rodriguez said in a statement. “We would also like to thank the employees who will no longer be at Rigel for their contributions and we wish them the best in their future endeavors.”

Eldon Mayer will join the company as executive vice president and chief commercial officer (CCO), with the plan to head the launch of fostamatinib. Prior to joining Rigel, Mayer led Questcor Pharmaceuticals’ commercial strategy and functions, including product launches for multiple indications. Prior to Questcor, Mayer had commercial management roles with Connetics Corporation, Chiron Corporation, Alza Corporation and Schering-Plough.

“We have reached an important threshold with fostamatinib where we need the capabilities of an experienced CCO to take fostamatinib into its next phase,” Rodriguez said in a statement. “Eldon is a proven leader whose expertise and prior success will be integral to maximizing the potential commercial opportunity for the product. We are looking forward to having Eldon join Rigel, and accelerating the process toward becoming a commercial enterprise.”

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