Eisai and Versatem inked a research collaboration focused on the development of small molecule Wnt inhibitors. Verastem separately reported acquiring exclusive global rights to Pfizer’s Phase II-ready focal adhesion kinase (FAK) inhibitor PF-04554878. The drug, designated VS-6063 by Verastem, is being developed for the treatment of solid tumors and is projected to start in Phase II development for treating mesothelioma next year.

The new partnership with Eisai will use Verastem’s salinomycin candidate VS-507 as the starting point for the development of new analogs that target cancer stem cells. Verastem has put further development of VS-507 itself on hold in order to push on with other priority candidates. Compounds identified through the Eisai collaboration will be tested using Verastem’s Wnt signalling and cancer stem cell assays. The firm will retain ownership of compounds developed during the 12-month collaboration, with Eisai receiving royalties on future commercial sales of products, and retaining rights of first negotiation for development.

Under terms of the deal with Pfizer for VS-6063, Verastem takes over all responsibility for developing the candidate globally. Pfizer earns an up-front cash fee and Verastem equity, and will be eligible for development milestones, future royalties, and sales milestones.

Verastem is focused on the discovery and development of drugs that selectively target cancer stem cells. The firm has developed a engineering technology for generating large numbers of cells that stably retain a cancer stem cell state, and has established a high-throughput drug discovery approach for identifying and developing drugs that specifically target these cells.

The firm’s development pipeline in addition includes a P13K/mTOR dual inhibitor VS-5584, which was licensed in from S*Bio earlier this year, and which is expected to start in clinical development in advanced solid tumors during mid-2013. Another FAK inhibitor, VS-4718, has been selected as a development candidate that started in IND-enabling toxicology studies last month. Healthy volunteer trials with the drug are projected to begin during early 2013. 

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