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After Brain Cancer Drug Fails, Tocagen to Cut More Than Half of Staff

Xconomy San Diego — 

Following the late-stage failure of its lead program, an experimental gene therapy treatment for the most aggressive form of brain cancer, Tocagen will reduce its workforce by 65 percent, the company said Thursday.

The layoffs will result in a staff of about 30 people by year’s end, Tocagen (NASDAQ: TOCA) said in the press release.

CEO Marty Duvall said the company, with its remaining cash, will prioritize the completion of an analysis of the results from the trial, called Toca 5, and a presentation of that analysis late next month at the annual meeting of the Society For Neuro-Oncology, in Arizona. The company had about $68 million in cash as of June 30, according to its latest quarterly report.

San Diego-based Tocagen was evaluating the drug, Toca 511 and Toca FC—an unusual combination treatment that pairs an injectable retrovirus with an antifungal compound that, guided by instructions in the vector, is converted into a chemotherapy—in patients with recurrent brain tumors. The company announced last month that the drug hadn’t met the goals it had established for the trial.

Duvall said the company also plans to “interact with the regulatory agencies to determine potential next steps” for the investigational drug as a therapy for recurrent cancerous brain tumors.

The drug is also being tested in a Phase 2/3 trial in patients who have just been diagnosed with glioblastoma, the most common and aggressive form of brain cancer in adults; the study is being conducted by NRG Oncology, a nonprofit research network funded primarily by grants from the National Cancer Institute.