Slow Start? Vesalius Axes 43% of Staff 6 Months After Launch


Six months after its official launch by Flagship Ventures, Massachusetts-based Vesalius Therapeutics is laying off 43% of its staff. With a current headcount of 67, the company is slashing 29 jobs.

In a statement to BioSpace, Olivia Offner, director of media relations for Flagship, said in order to best achieve its goals, "the company has made the decision to refine its strategy and streamline its organization around its most immediate priorities, which has resulted in a reduction in its employee base.” 

Vesalius officially launched in March with a $75 million commitment from Flagship. The company was founded and is headed by Christopher Austin, M.D., former founding director of the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) at the NIH. At the time, Vesalius appeared on track to hire 200 staffers over two years.

The company’s focus is on its DIAMOND artificial intelligence and machine learning technology platform. The technology “creates proprietary patient-derived experimental systems" that it uses to screen and characterize drug candidates to restore what it refers to as genetic circuits.

Many diseases have a single diagnosis but are actually multiple different maladies, which can result in various symptoms. The DIAMOND program is designed to sort out the actual driving forces of the diseases and regroup the patients differently.

The company believes it can improve the odds of developing drugs for diseases by better understanding their genetic components using its proprietary human cell-based experimental models.

While Vesalius did not specify what diseases it intended to focus on at the launch, it presented diabetes and Alzheimer’s as two examples of the conditions its model applied to.

Biotech Layoff Trend Continues 

The year to date has seen numerous layoffs in the biopharma industry. According to a June report by the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), 54 biotech companies reported layoffs in the first half of 2022. This is compared to only 12 in the second half of 2021 and 13 for all of 2021.

Larger biopharma companies are not immune to cuts. Yesterday Bristol Myers Squibb announced it was laying off 261 people in two different sites in San Diego, while AbbVie announced it would cut 99 jobs in Irvine, California.

September alone has seen at least five other biotech companies slashing jobs. Palisade Bio cut 20% of its workforce; IMV axed one-third of its staff; ObsEva SA pink-slipped about 70% of workers; and Rubius Therapeutics, another Flagship-created company, terminated 75% of its workforce.

In August, another Flagship company, Codiak BioSciences, announced “a reprioritization” of its programs with plans to restructure and cut its staff to 53 full-time employees.

The Vesalius website still has two job postings listed, including for director of Computational Biology and director of Statistical Genetics.

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