Roller coaster ride for Verastem continues as 2 weeks into the job, its CMO quits

Immuno-oncology
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After selling off its marketed cancer drug and focusing back on its pipeline after the loss of its CEO in 2019, Verastem started 2021 looking for stability in a new chief medical officer.

This came Jan. 6 in the form of ex-bluebird bio cancer research head Frank Neumann, M.D., Ph.D., who stepped in to help with its pipeline, predominately made up of VS-6766 and defactinib in ovarian and KRAS mutant non-small cell lung cancers.

His tenure may be one of the shortest in biotech CMO history: Two weeks after being announced, he’s already out the door with immediate effect. He’s off “to accept a position at another company,” according to the biotech’s brief statement.

It did not say which company, but Neumann said in a release he wanted to continue his work on cell therapy.

“Dr. Neumann’s tenure was brief, and we expect his departure will have no impact on our continued progress,” said Brian Stuglik, CEO of Verastem. “In combination with our medical affairs and clinical teams as well as external partners, we remain focused on our work to solve unmet needs in RAS positive cancers.”

“Given my respect for the people and leadership at Verastem and the truly exciting data and strategy I have seen, this decision to leave is difficult and based solely on continuing my work in cell therapy,” added Neumann. “I am confident that Verastem will continue to make a positive impact on patients’ lives.”

The biotech was down 7% premarket on the news.

Verastem has some history with top level walkouts: Robert Forrester resigned as CEO of Verastem back in the summer of 2019, as it looked for a successor for Forrester with commercial chops. This came in the guise of Brian Stuglik, the Eli Lilly veteran who sat on Verastem’s board of directors.

Forrester himself 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 AbbVie castoff duvelisib.

Verastem eventually won FDA approval for the PI3K inhibitor, setting it up to challenge Bayer’s Aliqopa and Gilead’s Zydelig in leukemia and lymphoma indications. But in 2020, the biotech decided to sell off the drug, known as Copiktra, to Secura Bio for up to $311 million, plus royalties.