CancerVax has been forced to shave its workforce by more than a half after a late-stage trial of its skin cancer vaccine, Canvaxin, failed to show a benefit. The company, alongside partner Serono, said earlier this week that the Phase III study would be stopped after an independent Data Safety Monitoring Board concluded it was unlikely to show efficacy over placebo, and that development of the drug would also be terminated [[04/10/05a]].

CancerVax, which saw 42% wiped off its value on the news, said in a statement yesterday that it would now focus its resources instead on other investigational products and potential acquisitions to pad out its pipeline. Heading up the portfolio now is D93, an anti-angiogenic monoclonal antibody, and SAI-EGF, which targets the epidermal growth factor receptor signaling pathway. Both could enter clinical development in 2006.

The impact of this restructuring will reduce CancerVax’ workforce from 183 to approximately 80 employees.

CancerVax has been evaluating Canvaxin in a Phase III clinical trial for the treatment of patients with stage III melanoma in collaboration with Serono. Another late-stage study in patients with stage IV melanoma was also discontinued earlier this year after showing a lack of efficacy.

Meanwhile, having initially shown little reaction, shares in Serono – Europe’s largest biotechnology company – were wavering yesterday as investors took on board the full impact of the news. Serono is heavily reliant on its multiple sclerosis drug, Rebif (interferon beta-1a), and has faced criticism from the investment community over a perceived weak pipeline. However, in a statement yesterday, the company said: “We continue to have a strong pipeline with five Phase III programmes and significant newsflow expected in the next year. Serono remains committed to oncology with Humax-CD4, adecatumumab and TACI-Ig with study results from all three programmes expected in 2006.”