IN THE pharma business, Juno Therapeutics, a small firm based in Seattle, is just a stripling. It is three years old, has not a single drug approval to its name but is nonetheless valued at $2.8 billion. That value is derived from the fact that it is on the forefront of the most promising area of cancer treatments in decades: immuno-oncology.
Juno’s edge comes from its attempts to master one of the most important parts of the immune system: the T-cell. It is developing a so-called CAR-T therapy, in which its scientists extract T-cells from a cancer patient, modify them with gene therapy so that they can recognise cancer cells, and then put them back in the patient’s body ready to attack. The process has a reputation for inducing rapid remissions in cancers of the blood for patients who have exhausted all other options.
Small, innovative biotech firms such as Juno are intriguing because nowadays they are the main engine of global drug innovation. Alexis Borisy, a partner in Third Rock Ventures, a venture-capital firm in Boston, notes that pharma companies now buy in three-quarters of their pipelines, and develop only…Continue reading