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12 August 2014

Juno shoots for $134m series B

Its total funding now stands at nearly $310m.

Author: Thierry Heles, reporter

Juno Therapeutics, a cancer immunotherapy startup that celebrated one of the largest series A of all times earlier this year, has raised $134m in its series B. The round includes all major existing investors and 10 undisclosed public funds.

Juno is a joint venture between Seattle-based Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre, the Seattle Children's Research Institute and New York City-based Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre. The startup’s goal is to reprogram T cells, a part of the body's natural defence mechanisms, and have them target cancerous cells to deliver precise immunological payload – in other words, use the patient's own immune system to destroy tumours.

Among the company’s biggest investors are Arch Venture Partners, a former spin-out of Chicago University (which remains a partner and an investor) and the Alaska Permanent Fund, a state-managed vehicle using 25% of the state's oil money to future-proof its economy. The two invested the first $120m into Juno back in December 2013. Bezos Expeditions, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’s investment company, and Venrock, a venture capital firm established by the Rockefeller family, then provided a further $56m in April 2014.

The company’s primary competition is Novartis, a Swiss pharmaceutical company with a revenue of $57.9bn. Novartis, with the support of Pennsylvania University, is working on a similar cancer treatment to Juno, and the two are currently engaged in a legal battle over certain parts of the technology. Celgene and Kite Pharma are also trying to enter the market, with Kite Pharma exceeding expectations with a $128m initial public offering in July 2014.

Hans Bishop, chief executive at Juno, is not worried about the legal concerns getting in the way of its therapy reaching the market. He said: “I really do not think that will happen. That is a personal view, but I am not worried about that. The way we look at it is the unmet need for these patients is very, very real, the prognosis for patients battling acute lymphoblastic leukaemia after they have failed their second round of consolidation is very dire. If competition really accelerates the chances for a better standard of care for those patients, it is a good thing.”

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