In deal flurry, Verastem vaults to PhII on Pfizer cancer drug pact

In a series of rapid-fire press releases over the past 18 hours, cancer drug upstart Verastem ($VSTM) vaulted to the threshold of Phase II with an in-licensing deal with Pfizer ($PFE), announced a development pact with Eisai, and ran through a series of highlights for its R&D day review. And if you drill through the whole package, you'll also find that the biotech has "deferred" pushing one of its initial lead programs--VS-507--into the clinic "as a result of a program review."

Verastem CEO Christoph Westphal kept the spotlight squarely on the good news. The biotech, a preclinical company that recruited a bevy of high profile cancer stem cell experts to help tout its discovery work to investors, grabbed PF-04554878--a focal adhesion kinase (FAK) inhibitor--from Pfizer after it completed an early-stage trial for advanced solid tumors. The program was renamed VS-6063 and slated for a mid-stage study for mesothelioma in 2013. And Westphal immediately raised the prospect of an accelerated approval after Phase II.

"A key component of Verastem's IPO was to raise sufficient capital to rapidly progress the development of novel compounds targeting cancer stem cells," said Westphal. "With the in-license of VS-6063 from Pfizer, we have accelerated our clinical development plans for the FAK program by 12-18 months." Verastem is paying out $1.5 million in cash, about $2 million worth of stock and up to $125 million in promised milestones for the program.

Verastem gained considerable attention for its focus on small molecule Wnt inhibitors. Now the collaboration with Eisai will focus on the discovery of analogs. Keying off of its VS-507 program, the biotech says that the two companies will set off in search of new programs. Eisai "has a right of first negotiation for products that are created through the collaboration."

Verastem, which quickly went public after launching in 2010, initially highlighted VS-507 as one of three preclinical programs that promised to target cancer stem cells, believed to be a high-value target in the field. The release does not provide any added explanation for the decision to defer its development.

- here's the press release on the Pfizer deal
- read the release on the Eisai pact
- get the release on the R&D review
- here's the story from Mass High Tech

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