The complexity of cancer has led to recent interest in polypharmacological approaches for developing kinase-inhibitor drugs; however, optimal kinase-inhibition profiles remain difficult to predict. Using a Ret-kinase-driven Drosophila model of multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2 and kinome-wide drug profiling, here we identify that AD57 rescues oncogenic Ret-induced lethality, whereas related Ret inhibitors imparted reduced efficacy and enhanced toxicity. Drosophila genetics and compound profiling defined three pathways accounting for the mechanistic basis of efficacy and dose-limiting toxicity. Inhibition of Ret plus Raf, Src and S6K was required for optimal animal survival, whereas inhibition of the 'anti-target' Tor led to toxicity owing to release of negative feedback. Rational synthetic tailoring to eliminate Tor binding afforded AD80 and AD81, compounds featuring balanced pathway inhibition, improved efficacy and low toxicity in Drosophila and mammalian multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2 models. Combining kinase-focused chemistry, kinome-wide profiling and Drosophila genetics provides a powerful systems pharmacology approach towards developing compounds with a maximal therapeutic index.