Two prominent cancer centers, former competitors Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, recently joined with the Seattle Children's Research Institute to form a new startup. The institutions have already raised over $120 million for the new venture, Juno Therapeutics, to create treatments for late-stage cancer. Mesothelioma attorneys at Pintas & Mullins hope this new startup will focus some of its fund on mesothelioma and lung cancer treatment.
Juno's CEO recently stated that the startup will combine investment partners and renowned scientists to deliver cutting-edge cancer immunotherapy treatments. Juno is pursuing two immunotherapy approaches: the first, referred to as chimeric antigen receptor-modified T cells approach (CART), involves drawing a patient's blood and enriching it to locate T cells. Scientist them perform gene therapy on these cells so they are better equipped to target and destroy cancer cells.
This entire CART process takes only 15 days, its ultimate mission to destroy all cancerous tumors and establish a memory in the immune system so any future cancer cells will be recognized as foreign and consequently killed. The second platform is called high-affinity T cell receptors, which seeks out T cells with a naturally high-affinity to bind to specific markers on cancer cells. Once these high-affinity T cells are located, Juno scientists use gene therapy systems to transform the remaining T cells to express the same qualities to fight cancer antigens.
How Immunotherapy Could Change Cancer Treatment
Juno Therapeutics is named for the Roman goddess of protection, which is exactly what researchers are trying to achieve for their cancer patients. Researchers are confident because they have an illustrious, though short, history of immense success. Over the past year or so, scientists connected to Juno have treated about 24 patients with acute lymphocytic leukemia who were given only a few weeks to live. Using their T cell immunotherapy techniques, researchers were able to trigger molecular responses in at least 15 of these patients. Molecular response means that there was no trace of cancer anywhere in the blood after the T cell therapy.
Juno now plans to set up as many as 13 new clinical trials for patients battling various forms of cancer in the next year or so, though the specifics of these trials have not yet been announced. Several other pharmaceutical companies have expressed interest in immunotherapy, including Novartis, which has plans to commercialize a new brand of immunotherapy soon. Bristol-Myers Squibb also recently gained FDA approval for its antibody medication, Yervoy, which prompts the immune system to fight melanoma.