A Somerville startup that hoped to harness the healing power of poop is flushing away its dreams.
Finch Therapeutics announced Tuesday that it would cut 77 jobs, about 95 percent of the company’s workforce, and give up on developing its pill made using human feces as a treatment for people struggling to clear recurrent infections of a dangerous bacterium.
The company is one of several with ambitions to develop therapies that used bacteria from the gut microbiome, obtained via human stool, to restore missing microbes and treat disease. The company has lost about $250 million since it was founded in 2014.
Skepticism that its approach would work and competition from other firms caused Finch’s stock to shed more than 97 percent of its value since it went public in 2021. Finch now aims to sell off its intellectual property and assets. Most affected employees will lose their jobs in February, with a small number staying into May.
The layoffs come amid a tough time for many small biotech companies that have found money harder to come by than usual. With cash running dry after nearly two years of deflated stocks, industry leaders have predicted that a way of acquisitions, bankruptcies, and downsizings could be at hand.
Finch’s initial focus, like its competitors, was on developing treatments that used presumably good bacteria to combat a dangerous one called Clostridioides difficile. As outlandish as the idea may sound, other companies have shown it works. Federal regulators approved the first fecal bacteria therapy for fighting C. diff. in November.
That treatment, given as an enema, was developed by the Swiss drug maker Ferring Pharmaceuticals, which acquired the program from its purchase of Minnesota-based Rebiotix in 2018. Other firms, including Seres Therapeutics and Vedanta Biosciences, both based in Cambridge, are pushing forward with their own bacteria-based treatments for C. diff.
Seres, which is developing pills filled with bacteria spores purified from poop, could get approval from the Food and Drug Administration of its product by the end of April. And Vedanta, which is opting for a poop-free approach by growing the bacteria in the lab, rather than sourcing them from donors, plans to begin an advanced-stage clinical trial of its pills this year.
Ferring’s enema therapy, made from processed stool, helped 70.6 percent of patients get better after 8 weeks, compared with 57.5 percent who received a placebo enema — a difference that scientists said was significant. Its Cambridge competitors may be even better. About 88 percent of patients recovered after getting the Seres pill in that company’s advanced clinical trial, and about 86 percent of patients who took Vedanta’s pill in an intermediate study recovered.
Finch had planned to wrap up an advanced study of its own pills, filled with bacteria extracted from stools, this year. But on Tuesday the firm said that “slower-than-anticipated enrollment” in the trial and difficulty obtaining additional funding or finding a partner to carry the program forward led the firm to ditch the therapy.
“These were very difficult decisions that we determined were necessary after carefully considering a number of factors and challenges facing Finch,” said Finch chief executive Mark Smith, in a statement.
The company also had early stage programs for autism spectrum disorder and inflammatory bowel diseases that have not yet been tested in humans. Finch was partnering with Takeda Pharmaceuticals, a Japanese drug maker with a large research presence in Massachusetts, to develop therapies for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, two types of IBD. But Takeda dropped the partnership in August.
Finch isn’t the first local biotech to announce layoffs this year, although its cuts, which will only leave a few employees behind, are by far the most drastic.
EMD Serono, the US health care business of the German life sciences giant Merck KGaA, on Monday said it would eliminate about 11 percent of its Massachusetts workforce on Monday. Cambridge biotech firms Editas Medicine and TCR² Therapeutics and Lexington-based Cyteir Therapeutics also announced job cuts earlier this month.