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Immunotherapy Biotech Raises $102 Million in IPO

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27 January 2017. A biotechnology company developing treatments for solid tumors, harnessing the body’s immune system, for cancer patients most likely to respond is raising $102 million in its initial public stock offering. Jounce Therapeutics Inc. in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which trades on the NASDAQ exchange under the symbol JNCE, issued 6.365 million shares at $16.00 per share. At the 4:00 pm ET closing bell on Friday, the stock traded at $17.55, a 9.7 percent increase.

Jounce Therapeutics aims to provide immunotherapy treatments for cancer with synthetic antibodies that overcome the inability of these drugs to work by themselves in a large segment of cancer patients. This lack of efficacy, says Jounce, can be traced to insufficient quantities of T-cells in the immune system within the target tumor, or mechanisms that block or limit the immune system from acting.

The company’s technology addresses solid tumor cancers that can be addressed with T-cells, either working alone or with innate immune cells, those that first respond to infectious pathogens. Jounce also targets the support structure around tumors called the tumor microenvironment. This part of the strategy recruits macrophages, white blood cells in the immune system that engulf invading pathogens, in the microenvironment and reprograms the cells to attack rather than support the tumor.

In addition, Jounce matches its immunotherapies to patients with molecular profiles more likely to respond to the treatments. This process looks for characteristic biomarkers, or molecular indicators, with diagnostic tests the company prepares to accompany its treatments. This approach is applied as well to enrollment in clinical trials, where participant prospects are first screened to find those most likely to respond.

Jounce’s lead product, code-named JTX-2011, binds to and activates a protein on T-cell surfaces called inducible T cell co-stimulator, or Icos that the company believes can stimulate an immune response in solid tumor cancers. JTX-2011 is being tested in an early- and intermediate-stage clinical trial as a treatment for solid tumor cancers, either working alone or in combination with nivolumab, a synthetic antibody for cancer marketed as Opdivo by Bristol-Myers Squibb. The study is looking primarily at safety of JTX-2011 under these conditions, as well as progression-free and overall survival rates.

Two of Jounce’s scientific founders — James Allison and Padmanee Sharma at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston — conducted the initial research that led to JTX-2011. The company’s other 4 scientific founders are cancer researchers at University of Chicago, Johns Hopkins University, Washington University in St. Louis, and Georgetown University.

The company received a major financial boost in July 2016 in an option-licensing deal with biopharmaceutical company Celgene Corporation. Under the agreement, Celgene receives options to license JTX-2011 and 3 other early-stage Jounce programs. In exchange, Jounce received an initial fee of $225 million as well as a $36 million equity investment. Should all options be exercised, future development, regulatory, and commercial milestone payments to Jounce could reach as high as $2.3 billion.

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