Forrester steps down as CEO of Verastem

Outgoing Verastem CEO Robert Forrester (left) and COO Dan Paterson (Verastem)

Robert Forrester has resigned as CEO of Verastem. Chief Operating Officer Dan Paterson will lead the company while it looks for a permanent successor for Forrester with commercial chops.

Forrester replaced Christoph Westphal as CEO of Verastem in 2013 and guided the company through a turbulent period defined by the failure of its lead candidate and subsequent regrouping around an AbbVie castoff, duvelisib. Verastem won FDA approval for the PI3K inhibitor last year, setting it up to challenge Bayer’s Aliqopa and Gilead’s Zydelig in leukemia and lymphoma indications.

Verastem, like Gilead, will have to contend with a black-box warning that details significant toxicities that could limit use of the drug. Management predicts sales of duvelisib, now known as Copiktra, to come in around $10 million this year, but analysts expect revenues to rise quickly beyond that.

Responsibility for meeting those expectations will fall on a new CEO. Verastem framed Forrester’s departure as his decision, but it will use the departure as an opportunity to install a leader with skills tailored to its current needs. When Forrester joined Verastem as COO in 2011, the company talked up his track record of raising money. Now, Verastem wants a leader who can make money.

“We intend to hire a CEO with commercial expertise who will build on the foundation that Robert has established and execute on our ambitious goals for the future,” Michael Kauffman, Verastem’s lead director, said in a statement.

While Verastem is searching for a CEO that fits its brief, COO Paterson will lead the executive team, permanently adding president to his list of titles in the process. Paterson will get support from Chief Financial Officer Rob Gagnon, who will serve as chief business officer in an expanded role, and other members of the leadership team. Forrester will continue in an advisory capacity, too.