In December, the Wall Street Journal and the Seattle Times announced the establishment of Juno Therapeutics, a new immunotherapy bio-tech start up that is a partnership between Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Seattle Children’s Research Institute. Some of you have asked about how this will affect the work that is happening at the Ben Towne Center for Childhood Cancer Research. Therefore, we asked Dr. Jim Hendricks, President of Seattle Children’s Research Institute to provide some insight for all of us.
“I have been asked to clarify the relationship between Juno Therapeutics (Juno) and the Ben Towne Center for Childhood Cancer Research (BTCCCR) at Seattle Children’s Research Institute (SCRI). Juno is a new immunotherapy startup with more than $145 million in Series A venture capital funding. Dr. Mike Jensen, director of BTCCCR participated in the Juno rollout as a scientific co-founder and will provide consultation to the company on an ongoing basis. Juno’s technology portfolio includes several patents from Dr. Jensen’s laboratory at BTCCCR. These patents are owned by SCRI and licensed to Juno.
SCRI is not an equity partner in Juno. Juno’s long-term goal is to provide a line of immunotherapy products that treat hematologic and solid tumor cancers. Market pressures will focus Juno’s efforts on adult cancers (pediatric cancer represents less than 1% of new cancer diagnosis in the US each year). Thus, the need for philanthropic support to drive the search for pediatric cancer cures by Dr. Jensen and his team at the BTCCCR remains unchanged. We are grateful for the continued support of Ben Towne Foundation, and remain dedicated to accelerating the timelines for new therapies and cures for children.”
Thank you Dr. Hendricks! We are appreciative of your clarifications and thankful for your willingness to take the time to share them with us.
As we have been reflecting and learning more about the work that will be happening here in Seattle (and around the world) because of Juno, a few things have become clear to us:
- The establishment of Juno Therapeutics legitimizes the work that is happening at the BTCCCR. To have highly experienced bio-tech business developers come alongside these institutions and put up this kind of investment affirms what we have believed for quite some time – that we are on the forefront of a new way of treating kids and adults for cancer. The science does not lie. And neither do these investment numbers.
- The technological advancements in immunotherapy that will come because of Juno will benefit the work that is happening at the BTCCCR. Juno will be heavily focused on how to make mechanical engineering applications and improvements for the marketplace. Therefore, we can imagine a day when new developments in technology will make it possible to work on hundreds of pediatric patients at a time – reprogramming their T cells in perhaps minutes!
- While the investment numbers are very impressive, the reality is they do not change the level of funding for immunotherapy pediatric cancer research. Juno is a “for profit” company. Despite the fact that cancer is the number one disease killer of children, it will never be at a level of profit that makes business sense – therefore there is no market pressure to develop protocals for kids. That fact has been and continues to be a hard pill for us to swallow (no pun intended).
So we press on. Grateful that smarter people than ourselves see the future of treating people of all ages with better therapies – aimed to empower the immune system. But ever focused on changing the outcomes for children. Thank you for your shared vision.