Juno Taps Ex-Genentech Scientist to Head Up R&D at New Bay Area Office

Juno Taps Ex-Genentech Scientist to Head Up R&D at New Bay Area Office April 17, 2017
By Alex Keown, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff

SEATTLE – Juno Therapeutics is looking to kick its research and development section into high gear following disappointing results with one of its once-promising lead CAR-T cancer treatment JCAR015. The company has tapped former Genentech scientist Sunil Agarwal to get the company’s research back on track, according to a new report.

Citing an internal Juno memo, Endpoints reported that Agarwal will helm the company’s R&D organization. Juno confirmed the reports late Sunday, John Carrol said in his report. Additionally Agarwal will head up R&D in the Bay Area, Endpoints said. As president of Juno’s research and development, the implementation of a strategy to drive Juno’s CAR-T programs into and through the clinic will fall to Agarwal, who worked on infectious diseases, metabolism, ophthalmology and neuroscience at Genentech.

“With Sunil’s appointment we are bringing research and development together as a single integrated organization under his leadership,” Juno’s Chief Executive Officer Hans Bishop said in the company memo, according to Endpoints.

Juno’s CAR-T troubles have put the company well behind competing companies Kite Pharma and Novartis , both of which are seeking regulatory approval for their CAR-T treatments. Last month, Juno announced it was axing its JCA015 program following different reports of deaths associated with the trials. The JCAR015 trial was most recently halted in November 2016 after the report of two deaths. It had previously been halted in the summer of 2016 following the deaths of three patients, but was cleared to resume by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration within days of the incident.

Juno said it is turning its attention to another experimental treatment, JCAR017, CD19-directed CAR-T cell product candidates, for the treatment of diffuse large B cell lymphoma. The therapy has shown promise in early-stage trials, the company said, with 60 percent of patients showing a complete response to the treatment. JCAR017 received breakthrough therapy designation from the FDA for the treatment of patients with relapsing and remitting aggressive large B-cell non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, including DLBCL.

It’s because of positive clinical data for JCAR017, as well as some of Juno’s other pipeline products, the company is revamping and revving up its R&D efforts. In the memo, Bishop said the company will spend the next few years to “significantly ramp up our clinical development capabilities” at the company, according to the memo cited by Endpoints. Such an investment, which includes the hiring of Agarwal, is needed for the company to become a market leader in CAR-T therapies.

“The competitive landscape is also heating up, so our prioritization and decision making associated with trial execution and pipeline prioritization will need to be enhanced as well,” Bishop said in the note.

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