Jounce Taps Merck Vet to Lead Cancer Drug Push

Read below for more on this story.

Jul 10, 2014 at 2:00PM

When Jounce Therapeutics launched with a big $47 million round last year, Merck (NYSE:MRK) was well behind in the race do bring the newest generation of cancer immunotherapy drugs—which harness the power of the immune system to fight tumors—to the market. Since that time, Merck has caught up to the pack. And now Jounce, which is pursuing its own ambitious cancer immunotherapy program, has nabbed one of the people responsible for that turnaround as its first full-time CEO.

Cambridge, MA-based Jounce today named Richard Murray, Merck's former senior vice president of biologics and vaccines, as its new CEO. Murray will step in for interim CEO and Third Rock Ventures partner Cary Pfeffer, who helped get Jounce off the ground last year. Pfeffer will now serve as Jounce's chairman.

Jounce CEO Richard Murray

Jounce CEO Richard Murray

Murray is taking over one of the more ambitious biotech start-ups to come out of Boston in recent years. Jounce aims to develop an unusually diverse portfolio of treatments in the hot and super competitive field of cancer immunotherapy.

Cancer immunotherapy has become perhaps the biggest battleground in life sciences after a series of key advances over the past few years. Big Pharmas like Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE:BMY), Merck, AstraZeneca, and several other companies have been trying to come up with and test as many combinations of so-called checkpoint inhibitors—which turn off a molecular switch that otherwise protects cancer from the immune system—as possible, hoping to find the most effective therapies. And new approaches have emerged, like so-called chimeric antigen receptor T-cell, or CAR-T technology, which seeks to use gene therapy to turn a patient's T-cells into cancer killers.

Jounce's founding idea was to combine a whole slew of cancer immunotherapy approaches into one company, and build a portfolio of different of drug candidates that work in different ways, rather than focusing on just one. The company was co-founded by Third Rock and a group of experts from MD Anderson (James Allision and Pam Sharma); the University of Chicago (Tom Gajewski); Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine (Drew Pardoll); and Georgetown University Medical Center (Louis Weiner).

Jounce hasn't yet specifically said what its targets are, but Pfeffer previously told Xconomy that the drug prospects would come from three major categories. One of those is checkpoint inhibitors like Bristol-Myers' imilimumab (Yervoy), which essentially release a brake on the immune system. Another is co-stimulatory molecules, which hit the accelerator, so to speak, boosting the immune response to cancer cells. The third category is drugs that hit molecular targets in the tumor microenvironment that make the cancer cells more or less vulnerable to the immune system.

Developing drug candidates and getting them into the clinic is the task for Murray, who was most recently tasked at Merck with helping advance protein drugs and vaccines across a variety of areas, among them cancer immunotherapy. Pfeffer said in a statement, for instance, that Murray was "instrumental" in getting Merck's checkpoint inhibitor, pembrolizumab, through clinical development. (Merck recently filed an application with the FDA to approve the drug, leapfrogging past Bristol-Myers.) Before Merck, Murray had stints at PDL Biopharma and EOS Biotechnology, which Protein Design Labs bought in 2003.

"This is a seminal time in the field of cancer immunotherapy and I am thrilled to be joining Jounce during this exciting period," said Murray, in a statement. "The company's early investment in translational science, including strategic alliances with several major academic centers, along with the active engagement of Jounce's founders, creates a unique opportunity to validate and advance the next generation of cancer immunotherapy targets and drugs."

Leaked: This coming blockbuster could make even Merck and Bristol-Myers jealous!
The best biotech investors consistently reap gigantic profits by recognizing true potential earlier and more accurately than anyone else. Let me cut right to the chase. There is a product in development that will revolutionize not just how we treat a common chronic illness, but potentially the entire health industry. Analysts are already licking their chops at the sales potential. In order to outsmart Wall Street and realize multi-bagger returns you will need The Motley Fool's new free report on the dream-team responsible for this game-changing blockbuster. CLICK HERE NOW.

This article originally appeared on Xconomy, along with:

 Ben Fidler has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Money to your ears - A great FREE investing resource for you

The best way to get your regular dose of market and money insights is our suite of free podcasts ... what we like to think of as “binge-worthy finance.”

Feb 1, 2016 at 5:03PM

Whether we're in the midst of earnings season or riding out the market's lulls, you want to know the best strategies for your money.

And you'll want to go beyond the hype of screaming TV personalities, fear-mongering ads, and "analysis" from people who might have your email address ... but no track record of success.

In short, you want a voice of reason you can count on.

A 2015 Business Insider article titled, "11 websites to bookmark if you want to get rich," rated The Motley Fool as the #1 place online to get smarter about investing.

And one of the easiest, most enjoyable, most valuable ways to get your regular dose of market and money insights is our suite of free podcasts ... what we like to think of as "binge-worthy finance."

Whether you make it part of your daily commute or you save up and listen to a handful of episodes for your 50-mile bike rides or long soaks in a bubble bath (or both!), the podcasts make sense of your money.

And unlike so many who want to make the subjects of personal finance and investing complicated and scary, our podcasts are clear, insightful, and (yes, it's true) fun.

Our free suite of podcasts

Motley Fool Money features a team of our analysts discussing the week's top business and investing stories, interviews, and an inside look at the stocks on our radar. The show is also heard weekly on dozens of radio stations across the country.

The hosts of Motley Fool Answers challenge the conventional wisdom on life's biggest financial issues to reveal what you really need to know to make smart money moves.

David Gardner, co-founder of The Motley Fool, is among the most respected and trusted sources on investing. And he's the host of Rule Breaker Investing, in which he shares his insights into today's most innovative and disruptive companies ... and how to profit from them.

Market Foolery is our daily look at stocks in the news, as well as the top business and investing stories.

And Industry Focus offers a deeper dive into a specific industry and the stories making headlines. Healthcare, technology, energy, consumer goods, and other industries take turns in the spotlight.

They're all informative, entertaining, and eminently listenable. Rule Breaker Investing and Answers are timeless, so it's worth going back to and listening from the very start; the other three are focused more on today's events, so listen to the most recent first.

All are available for free at www.fool.com/podcasts.

If you're looking for a friendly voice ... with great advice on how to make the most of your money ... from a business with a lengthy track record of success ... in clear, compelling language ... I encourage you to give a listen to our free podcasts.

Head to www.fool.com/podcasts, give them a spin, and you can subscribe there (at iTunes, Stitcher, or our other partners) if you want to receive them regularly.

It's money to your ears.

 


Compare Brokers