PanCAN Awards Inaugural Grant to Verastem Oncology to Conduct Early-Stage (Phase Ib/II) Clinical Trial for New and Better Pancreatic Cancer Therapies

LOS ANGELES, Calif. (May 18, 2022) – In a bold effort to accelerate treatment options for pancreatic cancer patients, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN) has created a multimillion-dollar grant to drive the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry to prioritize pancreatic cancer. Today, it announced that it has awarded its first PanCAN Therapeutic Accelerator Award to Verastem Oncology to evaluate their investigational treatments, VS-6766 and defactinib, in an early-stage (Phase Ib/II) pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma clinical trial.

Pancreatic cancer is notoriously aggressive and hard to treat. The current five-year survival rate is just 11%, and estimates suggest that the disease will be the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States before 2030. Most people with pancreatic cancer are diagnosed at a late stage when their tumor is inoperable, leaving these patients with few treatment options. And because the disease is significantly more resistant to chemotherapy than other cancers, it can even be difficult to treat in its earlier stages. Despite the fact that there is an urgent need for better outcomes for pancreatic cancer, research is often not prioritized because pancreatic cancer affects a relatively small population compared to other cancers, and clinical research can be risky and expensive.

PanCAN created the Therapeutic Accelerator Award as part of its significant investment in pancreatic cancer research. Since 2003, PanCAN has invested more than $149 million in research, with an additional $28 million anticipated this fiscal year. This includes 218 grants for scientists across the country as well as large-scale research initiatives such as PanCAN’s Precision PromiseSM Clinical Trial, which seeks to accelerate the approval of new treatment options for pancreatic cancer patients and PanCAN’s Early Detection Initiative, with a goal of developing a strategy to diagnose pancreatic cancer early when surgery is still possible.

The funding offered through the PanCAN Therapeutic Accelerator Award represents an innovative and groundbreaking way for a non-profit to accelerate drug development. If the result of the early-phase clinical trial is positive, the hope is that the investigational treatment combination will be incorporated into the PanCAN Precision Promise adaptive clinical trial. While Precision Promise provides an effective approach for late-stage research on new pancreatic cancer therapies, many companies are not investing in the early-stage research necessary for late-stage studies and potential drug approval in this disease.

“The goal of this funding is ultimately to develop new drugs for patients with metastatic pancreatic cancer faster and more efficiently than standard clinical trials,” said Julie Fleshman, president and CEO of PanCAN. “An ongoing challenge has been bringing new investigational treatment options into the clinic, so this funding encourages a company to undergo the earlier-stage research necessary to effectively test and facilitate entry into the later-stage Precision Promise trial to get treatments to patients faster.”

Verastem Oncology was selected to receive the 2022 PanCAN Therapeutic Accelerator Award for $3.8 million through a rigorous, competitive process involving scientific, business and programmatic review from leading experts in the field.

“Addressing high unmet medical needs of cancer patients is the sole focus of Verastem Oncology and the clinical development of our RAF/MEK clamp VS-6766 and FAK inhibitor defactinib aims to bring new treatment options to patients. We are honored to be the first recipient of PanCAN’s Therapeutic Accelerator Award, which enables us to more rapidly expand our development program and advance clinical research in pancreatic cancer to improve patient outcomes,” said Louis Denis, M.D., Chief Medical Officer of Verastem Oncology. “We look forward to a close partnership with PanCAN and expert investigators as we proceed with the planned clinical trial of the addition of VS-6766 and defactinib to standard treatment in patients with first-line metastatic pancreatic cancer.”

KRAS is mutated in more than 95% of pancreatic cancers and Verastem Oncology’s RAF/MEK clamp VS-6766 blocks tumorigenic signaling downstream of mutant KRAS. Verastem’s selective FAK inhibitor, defactinib, is included as FAK has been identified preclinically and clinically as a potential resistance mechanism to RAF and MEK inhibition, and FAK inhibition has been shown to reduce stromal density in pancreatic cancer both preclinically and clinically, which may enhance anti-tumor immunity and efficacy of chemotherapy.

For more information on the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network and its urgent mission to save lives, visit or follow PanCAN on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

About the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network
The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN) leads the way in accelerating critical progress for pancreatic cancer patients. PanCAN takes bold action by funding life-saving research, providing personalized patient services and creating a community of supporters and volunteers who will stop at nothing to create a world in which all pancreatic cancer patients will thrive.