More Job Cuts at Infinity As AbbVie Sends Back Blood Cancer Drug

Xconomy Boston — 

The outlook for Infinity Pharmaceuticals didn’t look good after its blood cancer drug, duvelisib, came up short in a critical clinical trial a few weeks ago, and the situation has gotten worse today. AbbVie has sent the rights to duvelisib back to Infinity, leading to another round of job cuts at the Cambridge, MA, company.

Infinity (NASDAQ: INFI) said this morning that it couldn’t come to terms with AbbVie (NYSE: ABBV) about a possible restructuring of their partnership on duvelisib. As a result, the two companies have terminated the deal—which could have netted Infinity more than $200 million down the road—and Infinity has regained duvelisib. Infinity is also cutting 58 percent of its remaining workforce (100 employees).

Duvelisib is one of several so-called PI3 kinase inhibitors. Targets in the PI3 kinase pathway are implicated in a bunch of important molecular functions, like cell survival and proliferation, and have thus become a popular cancer drug target. Duvelisib is a member of a more recent wave of PI3 kinase drugs, meant to be more targeted and safer than their predecessors. And despite the fact that the drug was well behind other rivals, like Gilead Sciences’ idelalisib (Zydelig), AbbVie was intrigued.

AbbVie paid $275 million to grab rights to Infinity’s drug, and attached another $530 million in milestones to the deal. The cash infusion was a boon to Infinity, which was getting the pharma giant’s help to run trials for duvelisib in several blood cancers. But while the drug hit its main goal in a mid-stage trial of patients with indolent non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the results weren’t as good as Infinity had hoped. In announcing the results two weeks ago, Infinity said it would close all of its research and discovery operations, and cut about 21 percent of its workforce (46 employees).

Infinity isn’t giving up on duvelisib, however. CEO Adelene Perkins said in a statement that the company is exploring “strategic options” for duvelisib and intends to file for approval on its own. A Phase 3 trial is underway in chronic lymphocytic leukemia that is expected to produce data in the third quarter. The results of that study, as well as the previously reported mid-stage trial, could form the basis of an approval application with the FDA shortly thereafter. Infinity is also running other studies of duvelisib in chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and follicular lymphoma.

“Data reported to date have demonstrated that duvelisib is clinically active with a manageable safety profile, and we believe that it could play an important role in the future treatment of patients with hematologic malignancies, particularly for relapsing and/or refractory patients,” Perkins said in a statement.

Still, Infinity is cutting more jobs to save cash as it moves this plan forward. The newest job cuts reflect the company’s decision not to proceed with three other trials. Infinity’s only other asset is IPI-549, another PI3 kinase drug in Phase 1 testing for solid tumors.

Shares of Infinity closed at just $1.30 apiece on Monday, and got a slight bump on the news Tuesday morning. Here’s more on the ups and downs at Infinity, PI3 kinase drugs, and the company’s partnership with AbbVie.