Seattle's PhaseRx Cuts 50% of Employees, Including Some Exec Officers


October 13, 2017
By Alex Keown, Breaking News Staff

SEATTLE – Washington-based PhaseRx has undertaken a strategic restructuring that includes the termination of 50 percent of its staff, including some executive officers, and the possibility of a merger of some kind, the company announced this morning.

In its announcement, PhaseRx, a company focused on developing mRNA treatments for genetic liver diseases, did not provide information as to which executives were culled or which departments saw the highest percentage of cuts.

PhaseRx’s approach is to use intracellular enzyme replacement therapy on liver cells to correct genetic diseases. The company’s initial product development focus is on urea cycle disorders characterized by the body’s inability to remove ammonia from the blood. The company intends to achieve clinical proof of concept in the first set of therapies in 2018.

PhaseRx said the cuts of 10 of its 20 employees are aimed at preserving cash resources and continuing operations. So far, investors in the company have responded favorably. Share prices shot up more than 50 percent this morning, hitting a high of $1.35 as of 9:30 a.m. Prices have dipped since that high and are trading at $1.28 as of 11:18 a.m. Shares closed at 89 cents on Thursday.

As of June 30 PhaseRx had cash and equivalents of $8.4 million.

The PhaseRx board of directors are exploring various strategic alternatives, which could include a potential merger. There is no timetable set nor have any decisions been made as to what kind of solution the company will choose. Phase Rx said it does not intend to “discuss or disclose further developments during this process” until the board has approved a specific action or determined that such a disclosure is appropriate.

In September, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave Orphan Drug Designation to PhaseRx’s argininosuccinate lyase deficiency (ASLD) treatment PRX-ASL. ASLD is an inherited single-gene deficiency that results in hyperammonemia (elevated ammonia in the blood) that can lead to irreversible neurological impairment, coma and death. Currently, the only cure is a liver transplant. RX-ASL has shown therapeutic potential in a preclinical model of ASLD, including reduction in the levels of compounds whose elevation are the hallmark of ASLD including plasma citrulline, argininosuccinic acid (ASA) and blood ammonia, according to company data.

In April, its treatment of ornithine transcarbamylase deficiency (OTC), PRX-OTC, received the comparable designation for the European Medicines Agency. OTC deficiency also results in hyperammonemia. In preclinical models, PRX-OTC has shown efficacy in lowering of blood ammonia and survival of 100% of treated mice. PRX-OTC has also received Orphan Drug Designation from the FDA.

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