By Mary Welch

Cubist Pharmaceuticals Inc. reduced staff by nearly 20 percent in a move that narrows the firm¿s focus to developing its lead clinical product, daptomycin, and licensing its V/TA technology.

¿Those cuts were mostly from our medicinal chemistry department,¿ said Scott Rocklage, president and CEO of Cambridge, Mass.-based Cubist. ¿They were in an unfunded, exploratory program ¿ with the key word being unfunded.¿¿

However, the company added a number of people to advance daptomycin, an antibiotic with activity against all Gram-positive bacteria, which will enter Phase III trials in complicated skin and soft-tissue infections, and Phase II for bacteria indications. With the additions and subtractions of staff, Cubist now has about 60 employees, down from 74, Rocklage said.

Cubist filed an investigational new drug application last month to start the Phase III trials. Cubist does not having a developmental partner for daptomycin, and the company recently raised $13.7 million in a private placement to fund the Phase III trials. (See BioWorld Today, Sept. 15, 1998, p. 2.)

In nonclinical testing, daptomycin has shown greater bactericidal potency than vancomycin against a variety of Gram-positive clinical isolates, including antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

¿What we are doing is focusing our assets on what we¿re doing well, which is daptomycin, partnering V/TA and drug development,¿ Rocklage said. ¿We elected to put our assets there. Of course, the layoffs help our burn rate.¿

V/TA (which stands for Validation In Vivo of Targets and Assays for Anti-Infectives) converts genomics information into data, letting researchers understand the role a specific target plays during an infection and prioritize the most valuable protein therapeutic targets from clinically important pathogens, such as Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli. Validated targets can then be enabled for high-throughput screens to identify leads for medicinal chemistry programs.

The technology evaluates the potential of a target in a way that emulates how an antibiotic attacks an infection, so compensatory mechanisms in the host ¿ or protective mechanisms in the pathogen ¿ can be identified early.

Last week, Cubist and Novartis Pharma AG, of Basel, Switzerland, signed a research and licensing deal worth up to $33 million to validate and develop assays for anti-infective targets and to identify new compounds for development. (See BioWorld Today, Feb. 10, 1999, p. 1.)

¿We intend to do more of those non-exclusive deals,¿ Rocklage said.

Cubist¿s stock (NASDAQ:CBST) closed Tuesday at $3.75, unchanged. n

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