Rubius, a once high-flying biotech startup, lays off much of its staff

Rubius Therapeutics, a biotechnology company aiming to turn engineered blood cells into medicines, will lay off 75% of its staff and stop development of its two most advanced drug prospects.

The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based biotech, which was worth nearly $2 billion when it went public in 2018, announced the moves on Tuesday in a bid to cut costs.

Rubius will halt Phase 1 trials of cancer drug candidates RTX-240 and RTX-224 and instead invest in a newer method of making its medicines that’s meant to lead to more effective products. The biotech is also exploring selling a manufacturing facility in Rhode Island that it bought in 2018 with plans to invest nearly $100 million.

The layoffs, meanwhile, will affect around 160 of its 213 full-time employees, a company spokesperson said in an email to BioPharma Dive.

The restructuring will extend the company’s cash runway through the end of 2023. It is the latest in a series of setbacks Rubius has suffered since raising $241 million in an initial public offering in 2018. The company was formed by biotech startup creator Flagship Pioneering with an ambitious plan to re-engineer blood cells to fight cancer and autoimmune diseases. However, its initial lead program, for a rare metabolic disorder, was delayed and eventually scrapped in 2020 after trial results were “uninterpretable.”

The company next turned its focus to cancer medicines, and early clinical results for its top two prospects were expected later this year. The company decided to halt the studies and change its strategy instead.

The new manufacturing method it’s investing in is “simpler, cheaper [and] faster,” CEO Pablo Cagnoni claimed on a conference call on Tuesday. The company plans to report preclinical results and provide a development timeline by the end of the year, he added.

Rubius is also continuing early work on a candidate for Type 1 diabetes, but gave no update on its progress.

Rubius shares had already lost most of their value since the company went public. Shares fell another 15%, to below $1 apiece, in early trading Tuesday.

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