Termeer and Westphal out as Verastem looks to end losing streak

Henri Termeer

The struggling biotech Verastem ($VSTM) whose stock has nose-dived over the past 12 months has seen its executive chairman Christoph Westphal and director Henri Termeer--two major players in the industry--resign without pre-warning.  

Westphal and Termeer have big experience in the biotech world, with the former founding Verastem and taking it public, while also having worked for a number of VCs over the years.

Termeer was of course the former head of Genzyme before its 2011 buyout by Sanofi ($SNY), and has been involved in a number of biotechs and their boards over the past five years.  

Westphal is best known for his orchestration of the $720 million sale of Sirtris, of which he was CEO, to GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK). Although this was long-term not a great deal for the Big Pharma, given that GSK later shuttered the operation and laid off the staff in 2013.

In a SEC 8-K filing, Verastem said both men have immediately resigned from the company’s board--although its weak run over the past 12 months and the immediacy of their departure suggests they were more than likely pushed out.

The company also announced that veteran board member Michael Kauffman has become its lead director, while Bruce Wendel will join the board as an independent director.

“Bruce is a proven leader whose experience building companies and bringing oncology drugs to market will prove invaluable as we work to unlock the potential of our pipeline,” said Robert Forrester, president and CEO of Verastem.

“His work in the development and commercialization of Abraxane as CEO of Abraxis will provide important insight as we move forward.”

Forrester added that he wants to “deeply thank Christoph and Henri, both industry leaders, who helped shape our vision and strategy, for their many years of service.”

There was no mention of any animosity, but the company has endured a series of trial flops, cuts and stock drops under Termeer and Westphal that has hit the biotech hard.

In September of last year, after initially defending the data, Verastem admitted that its lead drug defactinib (VS-6063) had failed its most advanced study for mesothelioma, a difficult-to-treat type of lung cancer associated with repeated contact with asbestos. This came after the drug showed poor efficacy and serious adverse events in a study for non-small cell lung cancer.

When the news hit the market in late September, the company's already battered stock went into meltdown mode, and has failed to recover in the intervening months. As a result, Westphal took the ax to the company, cutting 20 staff of the small group in an effort to save cash.  

Verastem has however still got plans for the drug, and in March the Cambridge, MA-based biotech announced a combo trial with Pfizer ($PFE) and German Merck’s checkpoint inhibitor avelumab, although no financial details were disclosed.

This has not been enough to help its stock however, which as of end of play yesterday saw its market cap less worth less than $50 million.

-check out the SEC filing

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