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Beam Therapeutics lays off staff, adjusts research focus

The company hopes its base editing technology will compete on sickle cell therapy

by Alla Katsnelson, special to C&EN
October 26, 2023 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 101, Issue 36


An asian man in a blue suit jacket smiles at the camera
Credit: Casey Atkins/Harvard
David Liu

Gene editing company Beam Therapeutics became the latest biotech to announce staff layoffs Oct. 19. The firm plans to lose 100 employees–20% of its workforce. The company, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, also says it will cut back on its pipeline. The cost savings from these changes will keep the lights on into 2026, the company says.

Chemist David R. Liu at the Broad Institute of MIT & Harvard, launched Beam in May 2018, two years after Liu’s lab developed base editors, the company’s key technology. Base editors deliver a twist on traditional CRISPR-Cas gene editing to make single nucleotide base changes in DNA. In theory, this technology enables the treatment of genetic diseases with more precision and with fewer off-target effects.

But despite base editing’s potential, it’s taking time for the technology to yield a clinical product. Beam’s restructuring will pause the development of an in vivo treatment for hepatitis B virus. The company will also seek partners for further developing its CAR T-cell immunotherapy for T-cell leukemia and T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma.

We need to make the difficult decision to focus our resources on those clinical programs and research areas we believe have the highest potential.
John Evans,Beam Therapeutics CEO

Instead, Beam will focus on its leading therapeutic candidate, a base editing therapy for sickle cell disease (SCD), and a second therapy that delivers hematopoietic stem cells to treat SCD. Investors have largely focused on the former, for which early clinical data should emerge early next year, sayss Sami Corwin, an analyst at William Blair, in a note to investors. Beam will also continue to pursue a base editor therapy for a metabolic disease called Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, for which it aims to submit regulatory applications in the first quarter of 2024.

A handful of other companies are developing gene therapies for sickle cell disease and two firms have already gone to the US Food and Drug Administration for approval of their products. That could limit the market for Beam’s alternative and the base editing platform will be critical to Beam differentiating itself, Corwin sayss.

It has been a tough year for layoffs in the industry; 119 biopharma firms had cut staff by Aug. 18 this year, matching the number for the whole of 2022, according to analysis by Fierce Biotech.

“In this challenging market environment,” says John Evans, CEO of Beam, in a statement accompanying the announcement, “we need to make the difficult decision to focus our resources on those clinical programs and research areas we believe have the highest potential for near-term value creation, while continuing to build a strong company for the future.”



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