Here's What Juno Therapeutics Really Thinks About Local Rival Adaptive Biotech

Published: Jun 01, 2015

Here's What Juno Really Thinks About Local Rival Adaptive
May 29, 2015
By Riley McDermid, Breaking News Sr. Editor

The battle of the Seattle-based biotechs appears to be more of a love fest than a feud, after perennial favorite Juno Therapeutics said that it thinks its other main local competition, Adaptive Biotechnologies, which recently had the largest venture capital raise ever in Washington State, is “vital.”

Juno CEO Hans Bishop, himself a multimillionaire after Juno’s ragingly successful IPO last winter, told a conference hosted by Xconomy that the cancer related research Adaptive is doing is crucial.

"It's absolutely vital," Bishop said. "The technology the folks at Adaptive have is an incredibly important window into understanding responses and non-responses (to drugs)."

That’s an unusual show of support from what can traditionally be a pretty sharp-elbowed marketplace, but Bishop was not stinting in his praise—perhaps another sign that with biotech’s bull market run continuing, companies are feeling confident there’s plenty of venture capital funding the go around.

But with or without the support of its regional peers, Adaptive’s traction in the market has been impressive.

Adaptive announced May 6 that it had raked in $195 million in Series F financing round, the largest venture capital raise in Washington State so far this year, and a boost the startup says it will use to fund its work studying T-cell and B-cell receptors in the immune system.

The round was led by Matrix Capital Management and included new investors Senator Investment Group, Tiger Management, Rock Springs Capital and an additional large healthcare investor, as well as existing investors Viking Global, Casdin Capital and Alexandria Real Estate Equities. Adaptive is also backed by industry-leading strategic investors Illumina , Celgene Corporation , BD Biosciences and LabCorp .

The late-stage funding, unusual for a company of its size, which in a different market may have taken a run for the public markets or exited to a larger competitor, comes after a spate of infusions. Most recently, Adaptive banked $94 million as part of its buy-up of San Francisco-based Sequenta, Inc., and it scored $105 million in a Series E round last April.

All that money pouring in, from such a broad range of investors, is a testament to the market’s increasingly bullish interest in anything biotech, particularly in the CAR-T or immuno-oncology spheres.

“The disruptive potential of our ground-breaking immunosequencing technology is evidenced by the tremendous commitment of our world-class investors,” said Adaptive Biotechnologies CEO Chad Robins in a statement. “We are honored to work with a consortium of investors who share in our vision that understanding the adaptive immune system will change the course of medicine across many therapeutic areas including cancer and other immune-mediated diseases.”

The fundraising caught the eye of longstanding tech journalist and GeekWire founder John Cook, who said in a column the very size of the round was astonishing.

“To put the $195 million figure in perspective, consider this,” wrote Cook. “Last quarter, there was $381 million invested throughout the entire Pacific Northwest, so that mean’s Adaptive’s latest funding round is more than half of all the money raised last quarter.”

Adaptive said it will also be expanding its immunosequencing platform to develop target identification technology for adoptive T-cell therapy. The company’s VC backers appeared to agree with that plan, saying they have high hopes for Adaptive as it moves into an increasingly competitive field.

"Adaptive has ingeniously combined the vast power of next generation sequencing, distributed computing, and data analytics with proprietary chemistries to create the industry leading immunosequencing platform that enables a portfolio of innovative applications addressing the research, clinical and therapeutic development markets," said David Goel, managing general partner of Matrix Capital Management.

Will PfizerKline Become the Next Pharma Player?
The speculation surrounding a possible bid from Pfizer Inc. for struggling GlaxoSmithKline is heating up, after one closely-watched biotech analyst said in a note last week that Pfizer buying the company would “unlock access to its balance sheet and improve its tax situation.”

Gregg Gilbert, a biotech analyst at Deutsche Bank, wrote in a note to investors “Introducing PfizerKline” that he thinks a deal would be “materially accretive” for both companies. Gilbert estimated that a bid priced at $29.86 a share, via half stock and half cash, which would push up Pfizer’s earnings per share by 10 percent to 16 percent beginning in 2016.

“We believe that the company has a sense of urgency to create value by leveraging the power of its balance sheet to do needle-moving deals,” Gilbert wrote. “Since media reports in the past have pointed to the potential for a Pfizer/GSK combination, we are revisiting that theme.”

We want to know, dear readers, if you agree? Should Glaxo continue going it alone, or might Pfizer buy it and create one of the world’s largest pharma players in history?

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