July 30, 2013

Boston Business Journal

How Verastem hopes to get from founding to NDA in 6 years

Sitting in a conference room in Verastem Inc.'s (Nasdaq: VSTM) Cambridge headquarters, President and CEO Robert Forrester describes his three-year-old biotech this way: “We’re a little company that knows a lot about a little. And that little is cancer stem cells.”

According to Forrester, looking at data through the lens of cancer stem cells (CSCs) is what’s allowed the company to sprint from its founding in 2010 to being a few weeks away from a potential pivotal trial today. The company’s lead drug candidate, VS-6063, has been granted orphan drug designation in both the U.S. and Europe as a potential treatment for the rare form of lung cancer, mesothelioma. That means the Phase 2 trial it intends to start before the end of September could form the basis of a new drug application as soon as 2016.

Verastem’s Kendall Square headquarters resemble that of a startup more than of an advanced drug company. Its 46 employees sit mostly at workstations right in the lab, or else at desks bought at Ikea on the other side of a row of windows. None of the desks - including Forrester’s - are in cubicles, let alone offices. While explaining who several of the executives are, Forrester jokes, “we either have titles that we don’t understand, or we don’t have titles.”

Forrester, a former lawyer and investment banker who, in recent years, has worked in the financial side of biotechs like Zalicus and Forma Therapeutics, says he founded the company along with Christoph Westphal specifically to focus on the types of cancer cells which are thought to be at the heart of the problem. “Cancer stem cells are the bad actors in the cancer, which lead to the origination, regrowth and metastasizing of the cancer,” Forrester said.

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