Juno Therapeutics, a new Seattle startup that’s trying to eliminate cancer from the human body, raised a hefty $120 million series A round last month. Now, it is receiving even more funding — in part thanks to Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos.
Through his investment arm, Bezos Expeditions, the Amazon founder is putting money behind Juno, which is now extending its Series A round to more than $145 million. Venture capital firm Venrock has also joined the round.
Juno, a spin out of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and Seattle Children’s Research Institute, is hoping to kill cancer by rewiring the immune system. Aimed at patients with advanced disease who have not had success with chemotherapy, radiation and transplants, Juno takes an individuals T-cells, which fight infection as well as cancers, out of their body.
From there, genetic engineering is used to make the T-cell recognize the cancer that’s specific to that person. Then, the T-cell goes back into the body and it can recognize a tumor, hopefully killing it.
Juno’s therapies will initially focus on blood cancers like leukemia, acute and aggressive lymphomas and B-cell lymphomas. However, there are plans to treat solid-tumor cancers — lung and pancreatic cancer, for example — by as early as 2014.
This investment is slightly off the beaten path for Bezos, who has typically backed technology-related companies. However, two years ago, he did put money toward ZocDoc, a doctor appointment scheduling service. Bezos also donated $10 million to the Fred Hutchinson Center in 2009.
Juno also announced that Marc Tessier-Lavigne, Ph.D., Anthony B. Evnin, Ph.D., and Howard H. Pien will join the company’s Board of Directors, while José Baselga, M.D., Ph.D. will serve as chairman of Juno’s Clinical Advisory Board.