Rubius Returns to Starting Board, Dismisses 75% of Staff


Rubius Therapeutics is undertaking another restructuring focused on its Red Cell Therapeutics technology that will result in the termination of 75% of its staff and a return to a preclinical starting board. 

Two years after shifting focus from rare diseases to solid tumors, Rubius announced its restructuring plans. They include discontinuing ongoing early-stage clinical trials assessing investigational candidates RTX-240 and RTX-224 for the treatment of advanced solid tumors. 

Investors have reacted negatively. Since the market's opening, company shares have fallen more than 20% to 85 cents per share. 

An Improved RED Platform 

In a call with investors and media this morning, Pablo J. Cagnoni, president and chief executive officer of Rubius, said the restructuring was prompted by advances made in its next-generation red blood cell-based cell conjugation platform.

Those advancements to the RED platform have the potential for substantial improvements over the company's existing platform, necessitating the termination of its two current clinical candidates, Cagnoni revealed. 

The current RED platform has been designed to genetically engineer and culture Red Cell Therapeutics that are "selective, potent and off-the-shelf allogeneic cellular therapies for the potential treatment of several diseases across multiple therapeutic areas," including in solid tumors as well as in autoimmune diseases, according to the company's statement. 

The advances announced Tuesday are expected to improve upon the existing benefits of the technology platform by offering greater efficacy, enhanced versatility and improved tolerability.

The advances in cell conjugation are anticipated to deliver a higher anticipated dose, enable a prolonged circulation time and improve the pharmacodynamics effect, Cagnoni said. 

A "More Predictable and Robust Process"

Cagnoni noted that cell conjugation advances are expected to lower the costs of generating the cells by using red blood cells from blood banks instead of biologically engineered cells. This is expected to reduce the costs of future clinical studies and improve the market potential for therapeutics the company hopes to produce. 

Larry Turka, chief scientific officer and head of research and translational medicine at Rubius, explained that the advances in the cell conjugation approach make it a "much more predictable and robust process today."

This enables it to be used for clinical development and clinical therapeutics. Turka noted that Rubius will maintain its preclinical oncology and autoimmunity research capabilities to advance the new platform and new developmental programs quickly.

With the shift, Cagnoni said the company has embarked on "the next phase of our journey to realize the power of Red cell Therapeutics."

The layoffs announced are expected to primarily hit clinical development and manufacturing teams and some administrative members. 

Layoffs Effective Immediately 

Lori Murray, chief corporate affairs officer at Rubius, told BioSpace the majority of the layoffs occurred Tuesday. She said a "select group of individuals" will remain with the company through a short transition period before their tenure with Rubius ends. 

More than 80 patients have already been dosed with the now-discontinued assets in three Phase I studies. Cagnoni said those patients would continue to be treated until either disease continuation is noted in the study or discontinuation. 

In addition to the layoffs and discontinuation of the trials, Rubius intends to sell its Rhode Island manufacturing facility. The company anticipates the cost savings from the restructuring will extend its cash runway through the end of 2023.

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