Kinase-focused Deciphera gets marquee backing for a big $75M venture round

A little more than a year after Deciphera CEO Mike Taylor set up an office for the biotech in the Boston area, the cancer drug developer has rounded up a whopping $75 million B round to make a clinical push for its top cancer drug candidates.

Marquee venture investor New Leaf Venture Partners stepped in to lead the big fundraising, joining a mystery investor who backed the company through the startup phase. Taylor still won't tip anyone off on who the angel backer in the background is, but he's happy to explain the development plans the biotech has as it sets out to provide clear proof-of-concept data for the company's kinase inhibition strategy. And little-known Deciphera has a bigger pipeline than most oncology biotechs that are still at an early stage of development.

The most advanced drugs are altiratinib and DCC-2618, both of which are being put through clinical proof-of-concept studies, followed up by rebastinib and DCC-3014.

Deciphera's big claim to fame is that it's taking kinase inhibition and doing it two, or three or four, times better. Altiratinib, now in the lead dose-escalation study, is a triple threat MET/TIE2/VEGFR2 kinase inhibitor. One of the big trends in cancer drug development in recent years is taking a combinatory approach to R&D, and Deciphera is doing that with a vengeance.

Its work is built closely on research work completed by Dan Flynn, a Millennium vet who's been operating far off biotech's beaten track near the KU campus in Lawrence, where he got his PhD and now works as an adjunct professor. By targeting tumor cells as well as the tumor microenvironment, Deciphera believes that it's on a unique track to co-opt "all these processes around (the tumor) to hide from the immune system," says the CEO.

Pursuing that strategy has inspired Deciphera's backers to double the size of the staff over the last 18 months to around 20 in total, with the small group of 7 in Waltham ready to recruit new players as it sets sail for more clinical development work.

Taylor had parted ways earlier with Ensemble Therapeutics after forging a long lineup of marquee deals with Roche ($RHHBY), Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY), Pfizer ($PFE), Genentech, Boehringer Ingelheim ($BIIB), Alexion ($ALXN), and Novartis ($NVS). Partnerships make more sense for some of the drugs in the pipeline than others, adds Taylor. And now that the company has raised $190 million in total--including $30 million from a long-standing partnership with Eli Lilly ($LLY)--the company can take the time to explore the next best step in its development path, including a potential IPO.

From now on, though, the biotech will be operating more in the spotlight.