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Seattle biotech’s rare approach takes cancer fight to next level

29/05/2014 by


Medical research institutions may all target the same maladies, but they regularly compete with each other over talent and funding. So how unusual is it for three of the country’s top cancer research facilities to combine their efforts to form a biotech startup company?

“It is relatively rare to bring three institutions of that caliber together to collaborate rather than to compete,” said Hans Bishop, CEO and co-founder of Juno Therapeutics. It’s now his job to help build a business model for Juno, and commercialise the lab work that Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle Children’s Research Institute and New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering are pursuing in immunotherapy.

Bishop, a former executive with Dendreon and Glaxo Welcome, credits Juno’s scientific co-founders from the three research centers with turning a novel concept into reality. “From the first time we brought up the idea of making this a much bigger collaboration than normal, they thought it was the right thing to do because the combined talents and expertise of the different experts in those institutions would really put us in an unparalleled position to develop these new medicines.”

Initial clinical studies have provided promising results from immunotherapy, which uses the body’s own immune system – specifically T cells – to attack cancer. It’s a concept that’s been studied for more than a century, according to Mark Frohlich, M.D., Juno’s new executive vice president of research and development.

T cells are great at recognising potential threats to the body, but not so vigilant when it comes to cancer cells. “We reprogram them and re-engineer them to bind tightly to those cancer cells and kill them,” Frohlich said. “What got me excited about joining Juno were these early clinical results showing that in some patients, very large, bulky tumors were dramatically shrinking and disappearing so we couldn’t even see them by conventional means.”

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