A month after losing its lead program, Unity Biotechnology cuts 30% of staff in restructuring

Unity Biotechnology’s lead anti-aging program faced the chopping block last month following a major Phase II flop. And now, 30% of its staff are next, as the company restructures to focus on ophthalmology and neurology.

The staff reduction will leave San Francisco-based Unity $UBX with 75 full-time employees by the end of the year. It’s yet another blow to the celebrity-funded biotech, which has been laser-focused on clearing senescent cells to potentially reduce the symptoms of aging.

In the last 10 years, Unity has attracted investors like Jeff Bezos, Peter Thiel and Arch Venture Partners’ Bob Nelsen — raking in more than $200 million in funding. But last month, it missed the mark in a 183-person Phase II study testing UBX0101 for osteoarthritis of the knee. Patients on the treatment arms showed virtually no difference compared to patients on the placebo arm, and as a result of the news, the biotech’s market value plunged 60%.

Despite the setback, CEO Anirvan Ghosh remained confident in Unity’s preclinical pipeline. “Our confidence in senescent cells driving disease biology remains strong,” he told investors last month. “Not only because of work we’ve done internally, but also because of the wealth of data from labs that continue to indicate both that senescent cells accumulate during diseases of aging and that eliminating them with targeted mechanisms can provide benefit.”

The biotech is hoping to send its diabetic macular edema candidate, UBX1325, into Phase I by the end of the year. It’s designed to target Bcl-xL, thus eliminating senescent cells to potentially treat age-related eye diseases. Plus, the biotech is keeping UBX1967 in its pocket — a “molecularly distinct backup to UBX1325.”

If all goes according to plan, Unity expects to dose the first patients in a Phase I study of UBX1325 later this year.

“Unity is a pioneer in the development of therapeutics targeting senescent cells at the crux of many age-related diseases, and we will continue to build on this scientific foundation as we advance our pipeline,” Ghosh said in a statement.

The company says the staff reduction will extend its cash runway through mid-2022, and it’s going to keep pushing its pipeline toward the clinic.

“Moving forward we will have a leaner and more agile team, which is well-resourced to advance our pipeline programs to key milestones,” Ghosh added later.

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