SEATTLE–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Jan. 11, 2016– Juno Therapeutics, Inc. (Nasdaq: JUNO), a biopharmaceutical company focused on re-engaging the body’s immune system to revolutionize the treatment of cancer, announced today that it has acquired AbVitro, Inc., a privately held biotechnology company based in Boston, Massachusetts. The acquisition provides Juno with a leading next-generation single cell sequencing platform that will augment Juno’s capabilities to create best-in-class engineered T cells against a broad array of cancer targets. Juno and Celgene Corporation have agreed in principle to enter into an agreement to license Celgene a subset of the acquired technology and to grant Celgene options to certain related potential product rights emanating from the acquired technology.
AbVitro’s technology allows for the identification of fully-human, natively paired T cell receptors (TCRs) and chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T binders directly from cancer patients. This capability, which allows for the interrogation of millions of single cells per experiment, enables the generation of binders that recognize known targets as well as the discovery of novel cancer antigen targets. Juno will also use the technology for translational assays to provide a better understanding of the natural immune response to cancer as well as to interrogate and monitor the immune system of cancer patients during treatment.
Juno intends to relocate the AbVitro scientists to Seattle and incorporate this platform into its therapeutic discovery process. In connection with the transaction, AbVitro co-founder and Harvard Medical School Professor George Church will become a scientific consultant to Juno. Jeffrey Ostrove, Ph.D., former CEO of AbVitro, will also become a consultant to Juno.
“High throughput, single cell sequencing will meaningfully accelerate our research process in finding both novel antigen targets and appropriate TCR and CAR T cell binders. We remain highly encouraged by the potential of our engineered T cell technology to impact the lives of cancer patients, and this technology improves our capabilities to extend our platform to a broader array of cancer types including solid tumors,” said Hy Levitsky, M.D., Juno’s Chief Scientific Officer. “We are highly impressed with the quality of the science at AbVitro, and we are delighted to welcome this world-class team to Juno.”
“The technology platform we built at AbVitro represents an exciting, novel approach to the understanding of immune responses and the discovery of tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes and their antigen targets. The synergy with Juno’s goals in the field of TCR and CAR T cell therapies is a perfect match for our team and technology,” said Francois Vigneault, Ph.D., co-Founder and former Chief Scientific Officer of AbVitro, and now Juno’s Vice President, Research.
“Juno’s newly acquired high throughput, single cell sequencing capabilities have the potential to expand their current pipeline and Celgene is excited by the opportunity to access some of these potential new drugs,” said Rob Hershberg, M.D., Ph.D., Celgene’s Chief Scientific Officer. “This transaction is another example of the Celgene and Juno collaboration providing benefits to both partners as we pursue therapies benefiting patients across the globe.”
The consideration for the AbVitro acquisition was approximately $78 million in cash and 1,289,193 shares of Juno stock. Juno and Celgene have agreed in principle to enter into an agreement to license Celgene a subset of the acquired technology and to grant Celgene options to certain related potential product rights emanating from the acquired technology.
Juno Therapeutics is building a fully integrated biopharmaceutical company focused on revolutionizing medicine by re-engaging the body’s immune system to treat cancer. Founded on the vision that the use of human cells as therapeutic entities will drive one of the next important phases in medicine, Juno is developing cell-based cancer immunotherapies based on chimeric antigen receptor and high-affinity T cell receptor technologies to genetically engineer T cells to recognize and kill cancer. Juno is developing multiple cell-based product candidates to treat a variety of B-cell malignancies as well as solid tumors. Several product candidates have shown compelling evidence of tumor shrinkage in clinical trials in refractory leukemia and lymphoma conducted to date. Juno’s long-term aim is to leverage its cell-based platform to develop new product candidates that address a broader range of cancers and human diseases. Juno brings together innovative technologies from some of the world’s leading research institutions, including the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Seattle Children’s Research Institute, and The National Cancer Institute. Juno Therapeutics has an exclusive license to the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital patented technology for CD19 directed product candidates that use 4-1BB, which was developed by Dario Campana, Chihaya Imai, and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
AbVitro’s cutting edge technology platform accelerates the development of novel immunotherapies by identifying cancer-specific immune cells from natural immune responses at unprecedented resolution. Based on technology developed by the visionary George Church at Harvard Medical School, the technology allows for the identification of full-length, natively paired antibodies and T cell receptors across millions of single cells simultaneously from patient tumor or blood samples. The platform enables the discovery of novel cancer specific targets and the development of monoclonal antibodies, antibody drug conjugates, TCRs and CAR-T immunotherapies. The company was primarily funded through an investment from Santé Ventures of Austin, Texas.