The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (Fred Hutch) and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC), along with pediatric partner Seattle Children’s Research Institute, have joined forces to launch Juno Therapeutics Inc., a new biotechnology company focused on bringing forward novel immunotherapies for cancer.
Juno is being launched with an initial investment of $120M, making it one of the largest Series A biotech startups in history. Initial investors include leading technology venture capital firm ARCH Venture Partners and the Alaska Permanent Fund, through a partnership managed by Crestline Investors. Chief Executive Officer Hans Bishop, a longtime biotech industry veteran, will lead the company.
Commenting on the launch of Juno, Larry Corey, M.D., president and director of Fred Hutch, said, “The longtime research investment that centers like the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Memorial Sloan-Kettering have had in tumor immunology has allowed us to progress to where we feel we can genetically engineer smart T cells to eradicate malignant cancer cells and provide meaningful clinical remissions. Joining together allows us to bring some of the world’s most accomplished immunotherapy researchers to catalyze this field.” Jose Baselga, M.D., Ph.D., physician-in-chief at MSKCC, said, “Based on the significant anti-tumor activity seen with this T-cell engineering technology, we are pursuing an aggressive and comprehensive clinical development plan to accelerate achievement of regulatory requirements and make this therapy available to cancer patients in the shortest period of time possible.” Robert Nelsen, ARCH co-founder and managing director and Juno co-founder, said, “The initial data from the clinical trials conducted by the scientific founders to date points toward the strong potential for this team to bring forward a broad pipeline of immunotherapy products that will transform how we treat cancer.” Michael Burns, executive director of Alaska Permanent Fund, added, “Juno presents a compelling opportunity to partner with a sophisticated management team and group of world-class research institutions who share our long-term perspective. At a time when public financing for clinical development has largely dried up, the private-sector model is critical to allowing ventures like Juno to push the frontiers of research.” Juno’s approach focuses on harnessing the power of the immune system through the reprogramming of a type of immune cell called T lymphocytes (“T cells”). T cells are part of the body’s natural protective defense system against infection, and Juno’s technology reprograms T cells to recognize cancer cells for a precision immunologic attack. Using synthetic receptors and/or augmented natural antigen receptors, Juno’s T cell reprogramming technologies enable the creation of a powerful anti-tumor immune response built from the patient’s own immune system. This transformative approach has the potential to induce long-term remissions and reduce or eliminate the need for debilitating surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.
“The tumor regressions we are seeing across our Phase I trials at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, Fred Hutch and Seattle Children’s Research Institute are unprecedented,” said Michael Jensen, M.D., director of the Ben Towne Center for Childhood Cancer Research at Seattle Children’s Research Institute and a scientific co-founder of Juno. “I believe this is a transformative therapeutic platform for patients young and old that has the potential to save lives.” Richard Klausner, M.D., co-founder of Juno and former director of the National Cancer Institute, added, “In more than 30 years of immunotherapy research, this is the most exciting data I’ve seen-a complete molecular response in clinical trial patients.” Juno’s partner organizations and founding scientists are:
— Fred Hutch: Phil Greenberg, M.D., head of the Immunology Program and member, Clinical Research Division; Stanley Riddell, M.D., member, Clinical Research Division.
— Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center: Renier J. Brentjens, M.D., Ph.D., medical oncologist and director of cellular therapeutics; Isabelle Riviere, Ph.D., director of the Cell Therapy and Cell Engineering Facility; and Michel Sadelain, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Center for Cell Engineering.
— Seattle Children’s Research Institute: Michael Jensen, M.D., director of the Ben Towne Center for Childhood Cancer Research.
Juno’s co-founders are:
— Hans Bishop, CEO of Juno and former executive vice president and chief operating officer of Dendreon Corporation;
— Larry Corey, M.D., president and director of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center;
— Richard Klausner, M.D., former director of the National Cancer Institute; and
— Robert Nelsen, co-founder and a managing director of ARCH Venture Partners.
Juno CEO Hans Bishop noted, “Juno brings together renowned scientists and exceptional investment partners to launch and quickly scale an enterprise that will deliver cutting-edge cancer immunotherapy. It is a completely unique opportunity that holds the potential to truly save lives while transforming how we treat cancer.”