Progenics Pharmaceuticals is to cut over a quarter of its workforce after failing to get expanded approval for its constipation drug Relistor.

The US firm also noted that it is terminating several early-stage research projects to focus on its oncology programmes, particularly a Phase II study of PSMA ADC, a human monoclonal antibody-drug conjugate in prostate cancer. Some 77 employees are losing their jobs (26% of the workforce) and Progenics says the move will reduce annual expenditure by $8 million. Also, chief financial officer Robert McKinney and senior vice president Benedict Osorio will step down on September 30.

The cuts follow a complete response letter issued by the US Food and Drug Administration in July related to a supplemental New Drug Application for use of subcutaneous Relistor (methylnaltrexone) in patients with chronic, non-cancer pain. Under the terms of its agreement with partner Salix Pharmaceuticals, Progenics is entitled to a $40 million milestone upon regulatory approval of Relistor for this indication; it is already on the market opioid-induced constipation in patients in advanced illness.

Just over a year, Progenics announced another restructuring which led to the loss of 38 jobs after the closure of its manufacturing facility. It also discontinued its research work in virology and infectious diseases.

Chief executive Mark Baker said the latest move "reflects our commitment to strategic goals we announced a year ago, when we directed our resources toward addressing the growing need for novel and improved cancer therapies". He added that "our top clinical priority remains advancing PSMA ADC, while continuing to evaluate strategic in-licensing opportunities".

Mr Baker went on to say that "while I believe this restructuring is the right next step…it is difficult to part with colleagues who have made significant contributions".