bluebird bio to ax 30% of staff

April 6, 2022

Amid rough waters, bluebird bio is cutting costs and letting go of 30% of its workforce — about 155 people — as the company tries to stretch out its cash runway until 2023.

The layoffs will save bluebird $160 million over the next two years — part of the biotech’s plan to reduce cash burn in 2022 to less than $340 million, with an anticipated 35% to 40% reduction in operating costs by the end of 2022, according to the company.

As of January 31, the biotech had 518 full-time employees, with 330 involved in R&D – one of the sectors that could be hit the hardest, according to chief strategy and financial officer Jason Cole during a recent conference call.

The downsizing, however, will cost bluebird about $10 million and comes after repeated missteps and delays left the company struggling to stay afloat.

The biotech has been waiting to hear back from the U.S. FDA regarding approval for two revolutionary gene therapies: beti-cel and eli-cel. In January, the agency pushed back the approval dates to August 19, 2022 for beti-cel and September 16, 2022 for eli-cel.

Beti-cel is designed for β-thalassemia patients who require regular red blood cell transfusions. Eli-cel is for patients with cerebral adrenoleukodystrophy; the treatment aims to preserve as much neurological and motor function and communication ability as possible.

Approval also hinges on two FDA advisory committee meetings, which should take place on June 9 and 10, bluebird said.

The delay in approval for the two gene therapies came after the agency placed a hold on bluebird’s gene therapy treatment for sickle cell disease, called lovo-cel, after one patient developed persistent anemia after treatment.

Bluebird is looking to sell the priority review vouchers for beti-cel and eli-cel if the treatments are approved as a way to bring in extra cash. Previous predictions said the vouchers could go for up to $200 million.