BioBuzz by Workforce Genetics

Deka Biosciences Continues Hitting Milestones, Builds Remarkable Momentum in Less Than a Year

Deka BioSciences (Deka), an emerging precision medicine company focused on developing therapeutics for cancer and inflammatory diseases, graduated from the Germantown Innovation Center and has not looked back since. 

Launched in 2019, Deka is the first cytokine-based biotech company to call the BioHealth Capital Region home. In less than a year, Deka has tripled in size and has consistently hit milestones that have expanded its capabilities, fostered growth, and advanced its promising pipeline. The company’s recent string of successes have been underpinned by innovative science propelled by top-notch scientists. 

Deka has developed disease-specific Diakines™ that maximize patient benefits through improved pharmacokinetics pharmacodynamics (PK/PD) function via targeted delivery of dual and complementary cytokines to affected tissues or cells. Diakines™ are purposely engineered therapeutic proteins that are designed to deliver clinically validated cytokines, in combination, to diseased tissue. 

“We’ve developed a platform of blended cytokines that detoxify stimulatory cytokines while retaining potency to activate the cells that are most able to destroy tumors,” shared CEO John Mumm. “Recently, we triagged the best combinations of cytokines to combine in the DiakineTM platform. That said, patients don’t respond the same way to the same molecule. To ensure we can treat all patients, we’ve built a precision patient selection system that identifies which DiakineTM the patient responds to the best.”

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“Our platform system now enables us to be a valuable discovery arm for pharma, and we’re actively engaged in securing co-development partnerships, added Mumm.”

The company has developed a robust pipeline of Diakines™ for multiple indications, including potentially  all oncology indications and inflammatory diseases such as Crohn’s Disease and Psoriasis. Deka’s lead asset is an EGFR-targeted DK210 Diakine™ aimed at treating all EGFR expressing tumors, and the company expects to file an Investigation New Drug Application (IND) in the fourth quarter of 2022. Should the IND be approved, Deka could potentially dose its first patient in early 2023.

In the last nine months, Deka has seen a cascade of achievements in a very short window of time.

Led by Mumm, who has two previous startups under his belt, Deka secured a $20M round of financing in late 2021. The financing round was led by Leaps by Bayer, the impact investment arm of Bayer AG, Lumira Ventures, O-Bio (Echo Investment Capital), Viva BioInnovator and Alexandria Venture Investments.

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In July 2022, Deka broke ground on a brand new facility in Germantown, Maryland. The new facility will have 14,000 square feet of office and lab space and will include a state-of-the-art Research and Development, Process Development, and Manufacturing facility. This essentially triples Deka’s footprint and will enable the company to manufacture in-house. 

“We chose to stay in Maryland because it’s a place where there is a greater disposition to service and a real focus on what you can give back to your community. Maryland and this region is just different then California and some other hubs. And I say that having been born and raised in California,” stated Mumm.

“I really feel like Maryland is a place where we could bring together a group of people that have knowledge and experience and are driven by helping patients. We want to build an environment, build a culture and a place where people feel like they can make a difference and Maryland was the right place to do it,” he added.

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Phase 1 of the project is a lab and office space build-out that will have a focus on sustainability. The company plans to occupy the facility in the first part of 2023. Phase 2 will include the manufacturing facility, including upstream, downstream and fill capabilities. Deka is taking a staged approach to building the new facility and has contingent plans to expand even further upon securing a co-development partnership for the use of its platform system.

Then in late July 2022, Deka received a highly prestigious 2022 Prix Galien USA Award nomination in its startup category. The Galien Foundation is the premier global institution dedicated to honoring innovators in life sciences. 

Deka is continuing to grow and has plans to hire staff to support the new in-house manufacturing function and to fill other key roles. Last week, the company announced hiring Charlotte Moser, MD, PhD, MSc, MBA as Chief Medical Officer (CMO) and Deb Kientop as Vice President, Clinical Operations and is actively engaged in a search for a Chief Finance Officer. Deka’s clinical group will also be built out with the addition of three or four staff. On the research side, the company plans to add approximately four or five scientists and two project managers dependent on a co-development agreement.  

Right now, the team is actively engaged in securing a Series B funding round that is expected to close by the end of 2022. The developing pharma partnerships and a promising Series B will support Deka’s hiring plans and pipeline advancements, including the upcoming IND submission for Deka’s EGFR-targeted DK210 Diakine™.

“As you grow, the nature of your company changes as does the face that you present to the world. These recent milestones and particularly our new facility are part of these changes and it’s important to show everyone that we are the DiakineTM little engine that can and does hit above our weight class every day. When we did our groundbreaking for the new facility, which will be massive compared to where we were, our team walked a little taller, held their heads a little higher, and were even more excited to come to work every day!” stated Mumm.