Spotlight: Cancer fighters


Three research giants are joining with some unlikely investors to make Seattle the hub of a $120 million startup named Juno Therapeutics, which will provide new cancer therapies based on a patient’s own immune system.

The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York and Seattle Children’s Research Institute are joining with investors to launch Juno, which will be based in Seattle. Xconomy reports that Juno has 11 employees currently.

The initial investment of $120 million is one of the largest Series A biotech startups in history, Fred Hutch noted in a December news release. Initial investors include ARCH Venture Partners and the Alaska Permanent Fund, through a partnership managed by Crestline Investors. The Alaska fund exists to return profits to Alaskans, and biotech is an unusual investment for such a typically conservative fund.

Hans Bishop, who once worked for the Seattle biotech Dendreon, is Juno’s CEO. The therapy using a patient’s own immune cells (T-cells) is based on more than 20 years of research, including the pioneering bone-marrow transplants that led to a Nobel Prize for Fred Hutch in 1993.

Commercializing is the only way to get this therapy to patients, says Dr. Larry Corey, president and director of Fred Hutch. Right now, only those enrolled in clinical trials can get the treatment. Blood is taken from a patient and T-cells are filtered out, grown to larger numbers and engineered to recognize the cancer. The cells are then returned to the patient and should attack the cancer cells more vigorously. Several experts predict Juno will make a treatment for lymphoma available more widely within a few years. Solid tumors, such as breast and pancreatic cancer, are also likely targets named for the therapy.

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