West Coast Editor

Abgenix Inc.'s belt-tightening move that consolidates its research and preclinical activities into its Canadian facility in Burnaby, British Columbia, and lays off about 15 percent of its work force will give the firm more resources to direct toward panitumumab, the fully human monoclonal antibody for colorectal cancer partnered with Amgen Inc.

"We've only given a percentage, but the starting number [of employees on the company's roster] is 520," which would mean about 78 would be laid off, though the numbers are approximate, said Blair Schoeb, spokeswoman for Fremont, Calif.-based Abgenix.

Last month at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting, the two firms disclosed positive Phase II results with the epidermal growth factor inhibitor, and data from a pivotal Phase III are due later this year.

Meanwhile, Abgenix plans to sublease the emptied research space near its Fremont headquarters, keeping its pilot, clinical and commercial scale manufacturing capabilities there.

The company expects to incur restructuring charges, most of which will be recorded in the second quarter, of $13 million to $16 million, including about $11 million to $13 million related to lease obligations and leasehold improvements, and about $2 million to $3 million in severance, relocation and other termination payments.

Abgenix generated panitumumab with its widely licensed XenoMouse technology, which creates a human monoclonal antibody that contains no murine protein. Earlier this year, Abgenix and Amgen, of Thousand Oaks, Calif., started a third Phase III trial with the compound, testing it as a first-line treatment given with chemotherapy and Avastin (bevacizumab), from South San Francisco-based Gententech Inc. The first two pivotal trials began in January 2004, evaluating panitumumab as a third-line monotherapy. (See BioWorld Today, Jan. 21, 2004, and April 28, 2005.)

The goal is to file a biologics license application for the drug as a third-line monotherapy later this year, then expand the label to a first-line combination later, if the data suggest it works in that indication.

Abgenix has a XenoMouse deal with Genentech, among others, begun in 1999 and extended in March for three more years, when Genentech bought equity in Abgenix, taking a quantity of shares not made public at the time. Abgenix since has disclosed in its first-quarter financial report that the amount was $1.7 million. (See BioWorld Today, March 15, 2005.)

Panitumumab is being examined as a monotherapy and in combination for other types of cancer, as well, including lung and kidney.

News of the layoffs and research relocation was disclosed Tuesday. Abgenix's stock (NASDAQ:ABGX) ended Wednesday at $8.70, down 2 cents.

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