New Seattle biotech focus is on curing cancer

by: Chris Legeros Updated:

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SEATTLE —

Cancer researchers complain federal money to fund their work has dried up.

They're developing promising new cancer therapies, but if they want to refine them and reach patients sooner with lifesaving treatments, they've got to have more cash.

That's why the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, the Seattle Children's Research Institute and Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York teamed up with private investors to form Juno.

Juno is a biotech company that will battle cancer with $120 million in startup money.

Dr. Phil Greenberg of Fred Hutchinson said, "The only way to do this on a broader scale is to commercialize it."

Research will focus on using part of a patient's own immune system to seek out and destroy cancer cells. T-cells, as they're called, naturally fight infections.

Doctors say they can be genetically engineered to identify and kill cancer cells.

Greenberg said, "They not only kill it, but they make more of themselves to go out and kill more targets."

Clinical trials have shown some success with forms of lymphoma and leukemia.

Researchers want to eventually tackle lung, ovarian and pancreatic cancers. Their immunotherapy could reduce or eliminate the need for surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. It could also offer the best shot of a cancer cure for Heather Marsh. She was diagnosed two years ago with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Marsh said, "Juno means that there's potential for my life to be very different and the thought of not living with cancer is very exciting."

Although Juno is a startup, the company is not starting from scratch. It will build on the research and clinical trials already done by its partners, hoping to introduce new cancer therapies in two to three years.