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Immunotherapy Start-Up Adds $134M in Venture Funding


T-cell (NIAID/NIH)

5  August 2014. Juno Therapeutics, a biotechnology company in Seattle developing cancer treatments that harness the human immune system, secured $134 million in its second round of venture financing. The company, a spin-off enterprise from research labs in Seattle and New York, says the new round was provided by 10 public mutual funds and health care venture funds, including its earlier major investors.

Juno is developing treatments for cancer that stimulate the body’s T-cells, white blood cells in the immune system with the ability to target invading cancer cells, without damaging healthy tissue. The company’s technology modifies T-cells with molecules called chimeric antigen receptors to better identify and attack cancer cells on their own, without invoking immune-system signals that could target non-cancerous cells.

The company’s technology also reprograms T-cells by adding a type of molecule known as human leukocyte antigens that focuses on corresponding proteins in tumors. Juno says about half of the U.S. population has the genetic composition to express these proteins if contracting cancer.

An early-stage clinical trial with 5 adult patients having relapsed B cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia shows treatments with their own reprogrammed T-cells release chimeric antigen receptors against this type of cancer, and experience rapid eradication of their tumors as well as complete remission of the disease. Two of Juno’s founding scientists, Michel Sadelain and Renier Brentjens, led this study and are listed as inventors of the technology on the patent.

Juno Therapeutics is a joint spin-off from Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, and Seattle Children’s Research Institute, with founding scientists from all three institutions. Funds from the new venture round are expected to support more early and intermediate-stage clinical trials, including those testing the technology with solid tumor targets.

The company started in December 2013 and completed its first venture round in April 2014. The two rounds provide for Juno a total of $310 million in capital.

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