Much like the mythological navigator from which it takes its name, Barinthus Biotherapeutics is steering a new course of pipeline prioritisation and restructuring by shelving its prostate cancer candidate and a major workforce reduction.  

The UK-based T cell specialist – formerly known as Vaccitech – said it will prioritise its pipeline to focus on two of its immunotherapy candidates, VTP-300 and VTP-1000, in chronic hepatitis B and coeliac disease indications respectively.

Shares in the Nasdaq-listed Barinthus opened 4.7% lower when the market opened on 13 June following the company announcement on 12 June. Barinthus’ market cap is $73m.

As part of the pipeline shuffle, the biopharma said that it expects to undergo a restructuring which will include reducing its employee number by around a quarter. The company currently has a headcount of around 130 employees, according to GlobalData.

GlobalData is the parent company of Pharmaceutical Technology.

Barinthus also plans to extend its cash runway into Q2 of 2026, further down the road it previously projected its coffers to reach which was until Q4 2025.

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The decision for VTP-300’s focus comes on the back of recent positive interim data from a pair of Phase II trials. The results, unveiled at the European Association for the Study of the Liver (EASL), demonstrated the drug’s potential to “significantly reduce and maintain hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) levels and achieve undetectable HBsAg levels in patients with chronic hepatitis B.”

Barinthus’ CEO Bill Enright said: “We believe that VTP-300 has great potential to do so as part of a functional cure regimen for Hepatitis B. With this pipeline prioritisation, we put the company in a strong position to maximise the probability of success.”

VTP-1000’s prioritisation meanwhile was based on “encouraging” preclinical data. Barinthus’ candidate is designed to induce gluten-specific T regulatory cells and reduce gluten-specific T effector cell responses, thereby dampening the immune response seen in coeliac patients. A Phase I trial is expected to commence in Q3 2024.

As VTP-300 and VTP-1000 advance, the company’s prostate cancer candidate VTP-850 appears to be getting sidelined. While a Phase I trial with the immunotherapeutic candidate will be completed, Barinthus did not reveal any further plans.  VTP-850 appears on the company’s website alongside infectious disease candidate VTP-200, which has just been evaluated in a Phase Ib/II trial. The trial reached its primary safety endpoint but fell short of efficacy, based on results announced in April this year.

Barinthus is not the only company to trim its workforce this year. Senti Bio cut 37% of its employees in January in an attempt to extend its cash runway, followed by Xilio firing 21% of its workforce in a pipeline reprioritisation effort. Most recently, Erasca reduced its headcount by around 18% after shutting down three clinical programmes.