Denmark’s Genmab is laying off 101 workers as it calls a halt to late-stage development of the investigational cancer antibody zanolimumab.

The biotechnology firm said that as it approaches potential commercialisation of certain treatments, “the need to establish a sustainable level of R&D investment is a key priority”. This led to a portfolio review and HuMax-CD4 (zanolimumab), which is currently in a Phase III study to treat cutaneous T-cell lymphoma, has failed to beat the cut.

Genmab says that patient recruitment into the zanolimumab study has been slow which the company believes “is due to the relatively small market potential in CTCL, the introduction of a new CTCL therapeutic to the market and numerous competing clinical trials”. Given all this, “the significant investment required to take the product through to approval is no longer a good use of its resources”. Genmab had regained the rights to zanolimumab from Merck Serono in July 2007.

The company also noted that it will wind down early-stage research in colorectal and lung cancer with HuMax-EGFr (zalutumumab), “based on new information about the role of K-RAS mutations and appropriate therapeutic regimens”. However, Genmab will continue its development of two Phase III and two earlier-stage studies with zalutumumab in head and neck cancer.

In addition, Genmab said it would aim to out-license three early-stage programmes that fall outside cancer – HuMax-HepC, HuMax-IL8 and HuMax-TAC.

The job cuts will be carried out across “international locations” (Genmab’s US headquarters are in New Jersey) and chief executive Lisa Drakeman noted that “while the board and management deeply regret the need to reduce our workforce…the changes are necessary to ensure that we have the correct level of staff for the planned development programmes”. The company has over 500 employees in Denmark, the USA, the Netherlands and the UK.

She added that the need to make the cuts “has taken on a special urgency in the current economic climate”. Ms Drakeman concluded by saying that “with a broad development programme including six ongoing Phase III studies, we must prioritise spending to ensure that we can continue to invest effectively for the future”.

How rosy that future will be depends on HuMax-CD20 (ofatumumab), the subject of a major partnership with GlaxoSmithKline which is being developed to treat chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, follicular non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, rheumatoid arthritis and relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis. Genmab also announced data showing that RA patients who participated in a Phase II studyof ofatumumab “achieved long-lasting results at the 48-week follow up period”.