Five Prime moves towards subprime

When was the last time a small biotech with around $270m in the bank had to restructure and cut costs? The fact that Five Prime resorted to such a move yesterday speaks volumes about the behind-the-scenes crisis of confidence that the company has suffered over the past year or so. It all started with the debacle around disclosure of cabiralizumab data at the 2017 SITC meeting, which precipitated a 40% stock collapse (“Surprise” SITC late-breaker breaks Five Prime, November 8, 2017). Shortly afterwards the group’s chief executive, Rusty Williams, was replaced by Aron Knickerbocker, and Marc Belsky, chief financial officer, resigned. But the shares lost another 50% in 2018; Five Prime’s biggest problem is that it serves as a proxy for novel immuno-oncology drugs, whose promise is fading fast. A bullish JP Morgan pitch last week saw it claim 56,870 gastric cancer patients addressable with bemarituzumab, an asset that targets FGFR2B-positive tumours, but investors were not sold, and presumably were not keen to participate in another equity raise. Five Prime burned through $130m last year, and restructuring is designed to save an annual $10m and allow it to end 2019 with cash of around $150m.

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