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Infinity Closes Research Ops as Blood Cancer Drug Comes Up Short

Xconomy Boston — 

Infinity Pharmaceuticals got a new lease on life in 2014 when pharma giant AbbVie plunked down $275 million to see if the company’s blood cancer drug, duvelisib, could stand out in a crowded field. The answer came back negative today, and Cambridge, MA-based Infinity has decided to gut its workforce as a result.

Though duvelisib hit its main goal in a mid-stage trial of patients with indolent non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a tough to treat blood cancer, the results weren’t as good as Infinity (NASDAQ: INFI) had hoped. Duvelisib led to a 46 percent response rate among 129 patients—all partial responses, meaning there were still traces of cancer in the blood.

CEO Adelene Perkins (pictured, left) said in a statement that Infinity was hoping for “a larger clinical benefit.” RBC Capital Markets analyst Michael Yee called the data “disappointing” in a research note, adding that the results don’t stand up to a rival marketed drug from Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ: GILD), idelalisib (Zydelig), which has its own problems and “lackluster sales.” Infinity and partner AbbVie have also halted a mid-stage trial testing duvelisib in tandem with the blood cancer drug venetoclax (Venclexta), one of several ongoing studies of the drug.

Shares of Infinity plummeted more than 63 percent, to $1.61 apiece, in pre-market trading on Tuesday.

It’s unclear what the future holds now for duvelisib and Infinity. Though Infinity is seeking feedback from the FDA on what its next steps should be with the drug, it has decided to close down all of its research and discovery work in the meantime. The company will cut 46 employees, roughly 21 percent of its workforce. It’ll do that to save cash while it figures out what to do with duvelisib and a second drug, IPI-549, for solid tumors. Infinity had about $193 million in cash at the end of the first quarter.

“These were very difficult decisions that were undertaken, and I would like to personally express my deep appreciation to the very talented and dedicated Citizen-Owners impacted by the restructuring for their tremendous contributions to Infinity,” Perkins said in a statement.

Infinity, unfortunately, has been in a similar spot twice before. In 2009, its then lead drug IPI-504 failed a late-stage trial in stomach cancer, and again in 2012 when a pancreatic cancer drug flopped. Yet Infinity, despite not having an FDA approved product to fall back on, was able to survive because of duvelisib.

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 idelalisib, 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 Infinity will only see a sizeable chunk of that cash if AbbVie moves forward and files an application for approval of duvelisib. Yee wrote, for instance, that if AbbVie were to file approval applications in the U.S. and Europe, Infinity would be owed $200 million in milestones. One Phase 3 trial in chronic lymphocytic leukemia is expected to produce interim data in the near future.

Infinity is holding a conference call this morning to discuss the news. Here’s more on the company and its ups and downs over the years.