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Aduro Biotech Slashes Staff 37%, Turns Focus to Lead Cancer Drugs

Xconomy San Francisco — 

Aduro Biotech is laying off more than a third of its workforce in a restructuring intended to keep its focus on its cancer drugs now in clinical development.

The corporate shakeup will cut the headcount of Aduro (NASDAQ: ADRO) by 37 percent, the company announced Wednesday. At the end of the third quarter of last year, Aduro’s workforce totaled 155 full-time employees, including 117 in research and development, according to the Berkeley, CA, company’s quarterly report. Aduro says the remaining workers will turn their attention to the company’s lead programs.

Aduro develops immunotherapies, treatments that aim to coax the patient’s immune system to fight disease. The company’s lead therapeutic candidate focuses on activating the stimulator of interferon genes (STING) receptor in immune system cells, which is hoped can set off immune responses that tackle tumors. That drug, ADU-S100, is being developed in partnership with Novartis (NYSE: NVS), which committed $250 million up front to Aduro in 2015 to develop STING drugs. The Aduro STING drug is currently in Phase 1 testing in breast, head and neck, and renal cell cancers, as well as lymphoma and multiple myeloma. Last month, Aduro added Eli Lilly (NYSE: LLY) as a partner in an alliance targeting the STING pathway to treat autoimmune and inflammatory disorders. The deal calls for Lilly to provide Aduro with research funding.

Another partner, Merck (NYSE: MRK), has licensed an Aduro antibody that targets a molecule called CD27. The Aduro antibody at the center of that alliance, which was signed in 2015, is in preclinical development.

Not all of Aduro’s partnerships have worked out. In October, Aduro disclosed that Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ) subsidiary Janssen Biotech would end its four-year alliance with the company and return rights to drugs that were being developed for lung and prostate cancers.

In addition to its STING drugs, Aduro says it will also focus on developing drugs that block a protein called APRIL, which is found in high levels in patients diagnosed with cancers such as multiple myeloma, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and colorectal carcinoma. The APRIL-blocking antibody drug BION-1301 is currently being tested in a Phase 1/2 study in multiple myeloma.

Aduro did not say how much money it expects the restructuring will save. The company says it finished 2018 with $277.9 million in cash. Aduro added that it collected a $12 million upfront payment this month from its partnership with Eli Lilly.

Public domain image of renal cell carcinoma by the CDC