Last night Luke Timmerman of Xconomy posted a nice article on the formation of a new Seattle startup, Juno Therapeutics, which aims to develop the chimeric antigen receptor therapy (CART) based on autologous T cells developed by Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK) in New York, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center (FHCC) and the Seattle Children’s Hospital, both in Seattle.
Juno secured $120M in Series A funding, which is pretty good for a two month old startup and shows how much excitement there is for this exciting technology.
How does this new development impact the CART landscape and in particular, the U Penn and Novartis partnership?
Immuno-oncology is fast becoming one of the hottest topics in cancer research following the approval of the anti-CTLA4 checkpoint antibody, ipilimumab, in advanced melanoma, as well as emerging solid data from anti-PD-1 and PD-L1 antibodies in melanoma, lung and renal cancer at ASCO in June.
The big question on many people’s minds though, is what other checkpoint inhibitors are out there and can they safely be used either as single agents or in combination with the above agents, or even with existing standard of care combinations (chemotherapy and targeted therapies)?
I have long argued that what will really make a difference in this space is combinations and the ability of sponsors to successfully evaluate novel-novel agents in clinical trials. After all, BMS have a huge advantage with ipilimumab and the ability to combine it with their PD-1 or other immunotherapeutics, since their rivals will be greatly hampered by the $120K per person price tag for the commercial drug required as part of clinical trial costs.
This means most companies in this space are looking at other options in the search for better outcomes.
At the AACR-NCI-EORTC Molecular Targets conference in Boston this week, the last day was devoted to two sessions in immune-oncology and one of the plenary sessions included Dr Susan Topalian discussing an update on nivolumab and anti-PD-1/L1 therapies post ASCO. There was also ample opportunity to discuss immunotherapy with the many attendees in the busy poster sessions.
The first immunotherapy session on Weds morning particularly caught my attention and it seems a good opportunity to summarize some of the key observations emerging in this field. Here are my detailed notes from the session, which raise a lot of fascinating questions from the presenters about this field and – more importantly – where it’s going: