Sage Therapeutics Slashes 53% of Workforce to Focus Resources on Pipeline


Following a setback with its experimental major depressive disorder drug in December, SAGE Therapeutics will initiate a corporate restructuring that includes halving its employee headcount in order to focus its resources on the development of its pipeline.

Cambridge, Mass.-based Sage said it is terminating 53% of its workforce under the restructuring plan. The majority of jobs that will be eliminated primarily affect the company’s commercial operations surrounding its one approved product, Zulresso, a treatment for postpartum depression. Sage said it remains committed to ensuring Zulresso is available for patients and noted that the commercial activities for the drug will be focused on areas that have existing, active Zulresso treating sites. In March 2019, Sage won approval for Zulresso (brexanalone), the first and only medicine specifically approved to treat PPD, the most common medical complication of childbirth.

As the company moves forward into its restructuring, Sage said it will continue to focus its pipeline on its three brain health franchises – depression, neurology and neuropsychiatry. Despite the restructuring and layoffs, Sage said anticipated 2020 and 2021 R&D milestones remain unchanged. The job cuts are expected to save the company annualized savings of approximately $170 million. The company anticipates the restructuring will cost about $31 million, mostly in expenses related to the job cuts.

Sage Chief Executive Officer Jeff Jonas called the decision to initiate the restructuring and layoffs “difficult.”

“We believe this cost reduction and reallocation of resources will help Sage advance our portfolio in a way that is consistent with our mission of delivering medicines that matter to people with serious brain health disorders,” Jonas said in a statement.

The job cuts come at a time when there have been unprecedented layoffs across the nation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Jonas pointed to the stress and anxiety that layoffs can cause and noted that millions of people will likely face mental health issues as a result, which makes Sage’s mission more important than ever.

As Sage moves forward, the company said it will focus on the continued development of zuranolone (SAGE-217), the MDD drug that crashed in the Phase III trial in December. In that trial, SAGE-217 did not distinguish itself from placebo in a statistically significant manner after 15 days compared to placebo in the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression. Last month, Sage announced that zuranolone, which is being assessed for MDD as well as PPD, is set up for three potential pathways that could lead to regulatory approval. The company plans to initiate a Phase III PPD study, a Phase III MDD study and a Phase III study in patients with MDD as an acute rapid response treatment (RRT) when co-initiated with an SSRI. Sage anticipates topline data for zuranolone in 2021.

The company is also moving forward with a Phase II study of SAGE-324 in essential tremor and a Phase IIa open-label study or studies evaluating SAGE-718 in one or more disorders associated with cognitive dysfunction.

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