Deciphera receives $6 million payment as cancer drug advances, sets up corporate offices in Boston; Bargain Depot closing; update on SportQuest
There are 6 million pieces of good news on the Lawrence bioscience front today, and one piece of news that may create some worry among local bioscience leaders.
Deciphera Pharmaceuticals — the Lawrence-based biotech company that has been labeled as a hot prospect for breakout success — has reached a major milestone. The company announced that it has received a $6 million payment from the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly after one of Deciphera's cancer treatment inhibitors moved into phase I clinical trials. Deciphera is developing the treatment, which the company hopes will be successful in battling several types of advanced cancer, in partnership with Eli Lilly.
At the same time, Deciphera announced that it has a new president/CEO and that the company is establishing corporate offices in Boston. New president and CEO Mike Taylor, a biotech veteran, will office in Boston.
Deciphera's press release says all research activities for the company will continue to be based in Lawrence. But the press release doesn't make clear whether the company's corporate headquarters will be in Boston. Reports by biotechnology media outlets give that impression. The Web publication FierceBiotech reports Taylor "is looking for a handful of execs to join him in the big Boston hub."
Boston is one of the power centers for the pharmaceutical industry, and Deciphera clearly is moving into a new phase of its development. Taylor previously was CEO of Ensemble Therapeutics, where he brokered research alliances with Roche, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Pfizer and other major pharmaceutical companies.
Dan Flynn, the founder of Deciphera, will remain with the company, but will give up his title of president and CEO. Flynn now will serve as chief scientific officer, and will continue to serve as a member of the company's board of managers. It appears that he'll remain based in Lawrence with the research operations.
Perhaps in today's mobile world, the idea of corporate headquarters isn't as important as it used to be. Lawrence leaders, after all, will be thrilled if Deciphera grows its research team and the good-paying jobs that come with it in Lawrence. But local leaders — with good reason — long have been concerned about promising companies with KU ties leaving Lawrence just before they become big successes. A big part of the city's economic development strategy is capitalizing off of KU research, and then keeping those promising companies in the community for the long haul. It has worked well in places like Stanford, MIT, the University of Colorado and other places. Leaders are convinced KU — especially with its pharmacy school — has the potential to produce a homegrown home run.
Deciphera — which has its offices and some lab space in downtown Lawrence — long has been listed as that type of prospect. As part of the announcement of Taylor's hire, it was confirmed that Deciphera will be looking for new investors, FierceBiotech reported. Sometimes investors dictate where companies need to be located, so it will be worth keeping an eye on.
I hope to get in touch with Deciphera officials soon, and report more details on the latest developments.
In other news and notes from around town:
• If you are like me and the best drug is a good bargain, there is some bad news. Bargain Depot, the 23rd Street business that sells surplus items ranging from tools to camping gear, is closing.
The signs are up, and the sale is underway. Deborah Wall, the store's liquidation manager, said an exact closing date hasn't been set, but she expects it to be in May.
Wall said the decision to close the store was based on the owner's desire to retire. The store was previously been owned by a partnership, but one of the partners became ill, and that created a transition period for the business, which Wall estimated had been in Lawrence for about 10 years.
The store is just west of 23rd and Harper streets. The sizable building is owned by an Overland Park-based trust, according to records from the county courthouse. A commercial real estate firm already has begun marketing the property, and Wall said several prospects have shown an interest.
Suddenly, there are quite a few spots on 23rd Street up for redevelopment. They include the old Carlos O'Kelley's location, the former Half Price Books store, the former Kwik Shop location, and a pretty good amount of space in the shopping center that includes Panera Bread.
Plus, there are two other sites that often get overlooked, but may have some of the largest potential: the former Don's Steakhouse building and the former construction yard for Diamond Everley Roofing. The sites are next to each other and right on the eastern edge of Lawrence. They are just west of Lawrence VenturePark, which is set to become the city's newest business park.
When you combine those two sites, you have the potential to do a fairly sizable project there. I have heard people in certain business circles talk how that could be a site for a new grocery store. I haven't yet heard that any new grocery companies are seriously considering the Lawrence market at the moment. (Other than the specialty grocer that has signed in West Lawrence. Still waiting for an official announcement on that name, by the way.) The site across the street near Tractor Supply also is positioning itself for a grocery tenant. But folks in that business have told me the old Don's Steakhouse location may get a look from grocers as well because, unlike the Tractor Supply site, it is on the north side of the road, which makes it convenient for commuters on their way back from Johnson County.
• It was a long City Commission meeting last night, which means it was tough to get all the news out on deadline. One item that got some discussion was the idea of naming the new recreation center at Rock Chalk Park SportQuest. As we briefly reported, the idea didn't go over well with commissioners. They didn't formally reject it, but said they wanted another two weeks to look at other names. Commissioner Jeremy Farmer will work with staff members on that project. Farmer already has said he likes a name along the lines of the Ad Astra Center, so keep an eye open for that.
But while commissioners didn't sign off on the name, they did agree to move forward on finding a corporate sponsor for the center. Commissioners approved a $17,500 contract with Premier Sports Management to seek out one major corporate sponsor for the center and two or three other smaller sponsors.
Premier has said it will be talking with companies such as Hy-Vee, Dillons, Checkers, Dick's Sporting Goods, Jock's Nitch, health care companies and other such firms that have a natural tie into sports, health or wellness.
Any type of sponsorship deal is expected to take several months to materialize. What I assume, but what wasn't really discussed on Tuesday, is that once a tentative deal is reached, the proposed corporate sponsor will be brought to the City Commission for final approval.
In the meantime, those of us who have to put names of facilities into articles and headlines are ordering extra ink. We can't be caught off guard if the facility ends up being named Dick's Sporting Goods Ad Astra Center at Rock Chalk Park.
More LJWorld City Coverage
I don’t know about your neighborhood on the Fourth of July, but in mine last night there were plenty of young venture capitalists on display: People willing to burn their money in hopes for a big bang in return.
Venture capitalists — the high-risk investors who provide start-up money to promising young companies — have long been a source of conversation and concern in Lawrence. The conversation has been: Where can I find them? The concern has been: There aren’t enough of them in the Midwest to make Lawrence a major player in the competitive bioscience arena.
Well, there’s a new study out that shows Lawrence may be doing better than people thought when it comes to at least one measure of venture capital. Lawrence has the sixth highest level of venture capital investment in America, when measured on a per capita basis.
Guru demographer Richard Florida — who lectures frequently on the power of the creative class — has crunched the numbers and found Lawrence is part of a trend of smaller communities connected to universities that are doing well in the venture capital arena.
Florida calculated Lawrence had $40.8 million in venture capital deals per 100,000 people in 2012. It put Lawrence in some great company. The top five were:
- San Jose, Calif., a.k.a. Silicon Valley: $216.9 million
- San Francisco: $159.1 million
- Boulder, Colo.: $86.9 million
- Boston: $68.1million
- Santa Barbara, Calif.: $59.1 million
Lawrence’s metro population — in other words, Douglas County’s population — is just a little more than 100,000 people. So, in real numbers, Douglas County companies attracted a little more than $40 million in venture capital investments in 2012. Think about that for a minute: $40 million in largely outside money came flowing into Lawrence’s economy because of start-up companies.
For whatever reason, area companies don’t do a lot to announce their venture capital successes, so I don’t know what companies attracted the cash in 2012. But in recent years, we have talked quite a bit about rising stars such as Deciphera Pharmaceuticals, drug particle company CritiTech, and the more than 30 companies ranging from animal health firms to e-commerce companies that are affiliated with Bioscience and Technology Business Center at KU.
There is no doubt that this new list is a good one for Lawrence to land on. It helps tell the story that local bioscience officials have been working to tell: You can have success in raising funds in the Heartland. But you could also read too much into this ranking as well. At the end of the day, when people think about hot venture capital markets, they think about real dollars, not per capita dollars.
A separate ranking by Florida shows how much work Lawrence has to do to crack the top 20 markets of overall venture capital activity.
Obviously, setting our sights on the Silicon Valley or top-ranked San Francisco isn’t going to be too productive. San Jose and San Francisco had about $10.7 billion in venture capital investments in 2012, accounting for about 40 percent of all the venture capital activity in the country.
More instructive is to look at some other college communities. Austin ranked No. 8 at $626 million, Boulder ranked No. 14 at $256 million, Raleigh, N.C. ranked No. 18 at $184 million and Provo, Utah ranked No. 20 at $162 million.
But the good news is, when you look at this study, Florida has created a blob map of venture capital markets. Lawrence shows up as a speck on it. And a speck is a start.
Hopefully, though, people aren’t counting on my neighbors to be the next wave of venture capitalists. After what I saw last night, they have to be broke.