New Verastem CEO hits the ground running, bagging options on GenFleet RAS programs to grow pipeline

Dan Paterson has wasted no time signing off on his first deal as CEO of Verastem Oncology. One month into the job, Paterson has put together a financial package worth up to $625.5 million to bag options on three GenFleet Therapeutics programs targeting cancers driven by the RAS pathway.

Paterson stepped up to the CEO position at the start of August to replace the retiring Brian Stuglik. The new CEO inherited a broad development program focused on avutometinib, a small molecule inhibitor of MEK, BRAF and CRAF, and the FAK inhibitor defactinib. Verastem sees opportunities to use avutometinib, in combination with defactinib and other molecules, in a range of settings but is light on other assets.

The GenFleet deal gives Verastem chances to expand its pipeline. Through the deal, Verastem has picked up options to license up to three compounds from GenFleet, a Chinese biotech that discovered the KRAS inhibitor, GFH925, that Innovent is moving through the clinic in collaboration with Merck KGaA.

Verastem has committed $11.5 million in combined upfront, research support and option payments for the first GenFleet program. If Verastem takes up its options on all three programs, and all three hit their milestones, the value of the deal will balloon to $625.5 million. Verastem will decide whether to take up its option on ex-China rights to the programs after the completion of certain phase 1 milestones. 

Paterson discussed the thinking behind the deal. “This synergistic collaboration augments our research and development pipeline in alignment with our strategy and expertise in RAS pathway-driven cancers. It also may enable new combinations with our lead assets avutometinib and defactinib,” the Verastem CEO said in a statement. 

The statement disclosing the deal lacks full details of the programs covered by the agreements. To date, the only public statement specifies that the programs are targeting cancers driven by the RAS pathway, which aligns with Verastem’s existing candidates, avutometinib and defactinib.

Verastem has secured the options without putting a big dent in its cash reserves. The biotech ended June with $183.1 million, having bolstered its bank balance with a public offering, and needs the money to file for accelerated approval of the avutometinib-defactinib combination and to run a confirmatory study.