A Lawrence drug development firm has received a $7 million payment from pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Co. for work on research that could lead to a new drug to fight cancer.
Leaders with Lawrence-based Deciphera Pharmaceuticals announced Wednesday they have completed a three-year collaboration project with Eli Lilly, and received a $7 million milestone payment after the drug giant has decided to use Deciphera research as part of future drug development work.
Daniel Flynn, president and CEO of Deciphera, said the announcement marks a significant development for Deciphera.
“It is important for us to know internally that our approach to treating cancer has been validated by another well-respected pharmaceutical company,” Flynn said. “They tested it, and found that it does work. That communicates to the pharmaceutical sector that we have a significant technology.”
Deciphera — which came to Lawrence in 2003 and has its headquarters and lab space in the 600 block of Massachusetts Street — conducts research on kinases, a type of switch for human cells.
The company has had particular success in identifying kinases that can contribute to malignant melanomas, and Flynn said he believes Eli Lilly is on a path to developing a “best in class” drug using Deciphera research. Flynn said Deciphera’s deal with Eli Lilly calls for Deciphera to receive royalty payments if drugs that use Deciphera research reach the market.
“We’re really pleased with the progress we’ve made thus far,” Flynn said.
The company has 32 employees, up from about 24 in 2010. Flynn said the company in recent months has been adding high-level executive positions — both a new vice president of strategic planning and business development, and a chief medical officer. Flynn said the new hires mark a new phase for the company.
“Research organizations cast a broad net at first to see which programs gain traction,” Flynn said. “Now, it really will be about focus and execution for us. In the next few years ahead, we’ll probably be identifying ourselves by two or three key drug assets.”
Flynn said it was difficult to make projections of how large Deciphera’s workforce may grow in Lawrence because the company will have to make decisions about whether to develop future projects internally or in collaboration with other pharmaceutical companies.
The company currently is working on one in-house project that it hopes will win approval as drug to fight a particular form of leukemia. Rebastinib currently is in phase one clinical trials. The company hopes to have the results of those trials in about a year.