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Ziopharm Oncology Restructures to Focus on Advancing Autologous T-Cell Receptor Therapies

NEW YORK – Ziopharm Oncology on Monday said it was undergoing restructuring and laying off more than 50 percent of its personnel so it could direct more resources toward advancing its T-cell receptor program.

Ziopharm uses a non-viral transposon technology, dubbed Sleeping Beauty, to engineer autologous cell therapy products that target specific tumor-derived antigens. The advantage of the platform, according to the firm, is that it can be used to manufacture the cell therapy product at the point of care and that it does not require that the product undergo ex vivo expansion. These two elements, Ziopharm claims, can produce the therapy in a fraction of the time and cost than currently available autologous cell therapies.

As part of its restructuring plan to extend its cash runway into 2023, Boston-based Ziopharm has cut 60 positions. The cash runway will give the firm more time to generate clinical data for its TCR-T Library program, for which Ziopharm has launched a Phase I/II clinical trial and will begin dosing patients early next year.

The start of the trial had to be delayed, according to Ziopharm, due to inadequate resources at its contract manufacturer. As such, Ziopharm is devoting more resources to establishing its own manufacturing capabilities for early-stage trials.

The leaner company now has four goals: bolstering its research and development to generate new intellectual property for TCRs targeting cancer hotspot mutations; operationalizing its internal manufacturing capabilities; generating clinical data in its TCR-T trial; and continuing to communicate with shareholders on responsibly spending capital.

"We believe today's strategic decision was necessary to create an organization structured and staffed for success and focused on the goal of generating clinical data in our promising TCR-T Library program," Ziopharm CEO Kevin Boyle said in a statement. "I am confident in the ability of our highly talented team to execute our strategy."

Boyle joined Ziopharm as its new CEO a few weeks ago, taking over the position from Laurence Cooper, who left the company's helm earlier this year after activist investors succeeded in pressuring the firm to replace several board members and the chairman.

In afternoon trading on the Nasdaq, Ziopharm's stock was down around 11 percent to $1.88.