If Juno’s founders are right, you may be hearing their company’s name quite often in the future: The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC), and the Seattle Children’s Research Institute have teamed up to launch Juno Therapeutics, a new cancer immunotherapy-focused biotech company. Its founders say Juno is one of the largest Series A biotech startups in history, having been launched with an initial investment of $120 million.
Juno’s technology can reprogram T cells to recognize and attack cancer cells, using synthetic receptors and/or augmented natural antigen receptors to enable the creation of an antitumor immune response built from a patient’s own immune system. MSKCC’s physician-in-chief José Baselga, M.D., Ph.D., said in a statement that the antitumor activity witnessed with this technology is so significant that they intend to pursue “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.”
“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,” added Michael Jensen, M.D., one of Juno’s scientific co-founders and director of the Ben Towne Center for Childhood Cancer Research at the Seattle Children’s Research Institute. “I believe this is a transformative therapeutic platform for patients young and old that has the potential to save lives.”
Juno currently plans to develop two complementary platforms: chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) and T-cell receptors (TCRs). CAR technology is designed to target the cell surface antigens expressed on cancer cells, and the high-affinity TCR technology can also detect alterations in intracellular proteins present in tumor cells.
Juno’s co-founders are Hans Bishop, CEO of Juno and former evp and COO of Dendreon; 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, a managing director and co-founder of ARCH Venture Partners.
In addition to Dr. Jensen, Juno’s other founding scientists are Phil Greenberg, M.D., head of the Immunology Program and member, Clinical Research Division at Fred Hutchinson; Stanley Riddell, M.D., member, Clinical Research Division from Fred Hutchinson; Renier J. Brentjens, M.D., Ph.D., medical oncologist and associate chair for Cellular Therapy Trials at MSKCC; Isabelle Rivière, Ph.D., director of the Cell Therapy and Cell Engineering Facility at MSKCC; and Michel Sadelain, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Center for Cell Engineering at MSKCC.
ARCH Venture Partners and the Alaska Permanent Fund are among Juno’s initial investors, through a partnership managed by Crestline Investors.