Immunotherapy startup lands $120M Series A for cancer-killing drugs

Once-rival researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center have decided to join forces and dive into drug development, hauling in a massive $120 million Series A round to advance "smart" T cells that spur an immunologic attack on cancers.

Their startup, Juno Therapeutics, unites some of the brightest minds in immunotherapy development around the idea of using chimeric antigen receptors to reprogram a patient's T cells and transform them into cancer-fighting agents. Juno's leadership believes the platform will lead to promising drug candidates for hematologic and solid tumor cancers, and they've recruited the Seattle Children's Research Institute to pitch in on pediatric development.

The $120 million raise, provided by investors like ARCH Venture Partners and the Alaska Permanent Fund, will help get some of Juno's candidates through Phase I, and the company is already trumpeting its early results as "unprecedented." Juno's drug completely eradicated cancer cells in 10 of 12 leukemia patients after a single infusion, the company said--results cofounder and former National Cancer Institute Director Richard Klausner called the most exciting data he's seen in 30 years of immunotherapy research.

The new company has yet to disclose side effects, survival rates or full-scale data from those studies, but the early promise was enough to lure some high-dollar backing, and Juno has recruited a CEO with experience bringing a T cell-altering immunotherapy to market, installing former Dendreon chief Hans Bishop to lead the way. And the company is hardly short on ambition, setting course on a broad clinical program with plans to run concurrent trials on numerous cancers, Bishop said.

"Juno brings together renowned scientists and exceptional investment partners to launch and quickly scale an enterprise that will deliver cutting-edge cancer immunotherapy," Bishop said in a statement. "It is a completely unique opportunity that holds the potential to truly save lives while transforming how we treat cancer."

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