Biotech group Xenova axes a third of its staff

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Xenova, the ailing biotech group, has cut more than a third of its workforce, it said yesterday.

The unprofitable group, whose work on a new cancer drug was stopped in May after side effects were reported, has shed 41 of its 107 staff and halted work on a number of other drug development projects.

David Oxlade, Xenova's chief executive, said that the cut-backs would give it breathing space as it searches for ways to top up its dwindling cash reserves or to engineer a merger. He said: "We said in May that we would be refocusing our resources on the most commercially attractive projects and looking for substantial cost reductions. That is virtually now done.

"The job losses have been mostly in early-stage cancer research, but we have spent a lot of time wrapping up these projects sensibly so that they can be restarted if we choose."

As well as early-stage research, the company has also mothballed work on its more advanced treatments for cervical cancer and herpes. It will continue to pursue work on vaccines against nicotine and cocaine addiction.

Xenova's shares fell 0.5p to 12.5p yesterday on news that it will take longer than originally hoped to decide the future of Tariquidar, the cancer drug whose main human trial for lung cancer was abandoned in May. QLT, Xenova's US partner which was conducting the trial, is yet to report back on the toxic effects of the drug or whether it plans to continue to work with the drug.

However, QLT did say that earlier-stage safety trials of Tariquidar for breast cancer were progressing in Texas.

Dr Julie Simmonds, a senior analyst at Evolution Beeson Gregory, said: "Whether Tariquidar is continued or not Xenova still only has cash until August 2004."