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Out Of Options, Cancer Patients Respond Well To Seattle Company's Experimental Therapy

Juno Theraputics

Seattle-based scientists are reporting more encouraging results from treating blood cancer patients with souped-up immune cells.

The trial, part of a larger study by Seattle-based biotechnology Juno Therapeutics, involved about 50 people with three different types of blood cancer. Patients in this type of trial typically have not responded to the usual treatments, and are nearly out of options.

Scientists from Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centerre-engineered the patients’ immune cells and injected them back into their bodies. Dr. Cameron Turtle of Fred Hutch reported Monday that 91 percent of those with acute lymphoblastic leukemia went into remission.

At least as noteworthy was a 63 percent response rate for patients with non-Hodgkin lymphoma -- a blood cancer that has less of a track record with immunotherapies.

“The data today began to tell us that we are gaining fundamental insights into how we might make these therapies work as well for patients with non-Hodgkin Lymphoma as the early results have been for patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia,” said Steve Harr, Chief Financial Officer for Juno Therapeutics.

Still, two patients died during the trial, causing the investigators to lower the maximum dose. Even many of those who are benefitting will likely relapse. Harr said these are reminders that the work is in early stages.

“We are absolutely focused on trying to get as many of those 90 percent as possible to a long-term, durable remission, or a word that we’re always a little bit hesitant to use, which is a cure,” said Harr.  

The study is part of a larger trial by Juno, which is testing several versions of its turbocharged T-cells in patients with different types of cancers. Juno’s stock spiked after its announcements at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncologists in Chicago, but leveled off later in the day.

On Tuesday Juno also announced it had acquired X-BODY Inc., a privately-held biotech that works to modify human antibodies for therapeutic purposes. 

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.