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NextCure to lay off 37% of staff, dial back research plans

Cancer immunotherapy developer NextCure is laying off 37% of its staff and streamlining its research plans, the company said Thursday

Alongside its 2023 earnings, the biotech revealed that it is reducing its workforce from 81 employees to 51. The layoffs will primarily affect drug manufacturing roles, but will impact other parts of the organization as well, including research and development. 

NextCure is also dialing back its portfolio to focus on two drug candidates. By the end of the year, the company plans to ask the Food and Drug Administration for clearance to start testing of one of them, an antibody-drug conjugate developed through a partnership with LegoChem Biosciences. The other, a prospect called NC410, is an immunotherapy in early-stage testing for ovarian and colorectal cancers.

NextCure plans to partner off the rest of its programs, which include drugs in Phase 1 or preclinical testing for leukemia, Alzheimer’s disease and other conditions. 

The restructuring, along with the roughly $108 million in cash the company has on hand, should fund operations into the second half of 2026. It previously had enough runway to operate through the middle of next year

“Given our current cash position and revised runway … we believe we can advance our two programs through important near-term clinical milestones,” said NextCure president and CEO Michael Richman. 

The restructuring represents the latest about-face for NextCure. The biotech was founded based on the work of Lieping Chen, a pioneering immunotherapy researcher whose discoveries helped pave the way for the “checkpoint inhibitor” cancer drugs that are now used to treat dozens of tumor types. The company was one of a number of startups founded in the last decade aiming to develop drugs that could either boost the effectiveness of immunotherapies or help those that don’t respond to treatment. It raised $194M in an initial public offering in 2019 to fund its work, and shares once climbed as high as nearly $83 apiece.  

Yet, like many of its peers, NextCure has struggled to stand out. After disappointing study results in 2022, the company abandoned what was once its lead therapy, a drug in development for a range of tumors. The company has since retrenched and focused on other medicines, but its share price has dwindled along the way, trading at less than $2 apiece on Thursday. 

The restructuring will give NextCure a chance to see if its new strategy can pay dividends. The drug in human testing, NC410, could have results in colorectal cancer in the second quarter and additional clinical data in ovarian cancer later this year. 

The layoffs make NextCure one of more than two dozen companies to turn to layoffs in 2024, according to BioPharma Dive data. More than 120 public biotech companies cut jobs in 2023.