Jounce Therapeutics, a Cambridge, MA, startup funded by Third Rock Ventures, has jumped into the business of cancer immunotherapies.

After struggling for decades to make a clinical impact, the field of cancer immunotherapy has seen some recent successes. Now a startup company called Jounce Therapeutics is entering the ring, with luminaries in the field among its founders and $47 million in seed funding.

Jounce is a creation of Third Rock Ventures of Boston, MA, and San Francisco, CA, which launches life science companies. Cary Pfeffer, MD, a partner at Third Rock and Jounce's interim CEO, says the firm decided to invest in cancer immunotherapy after a meeting with James Allison, PhD, of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, who became one of Jounce's scientific cofounders.

Although Jounce has just opened facilities in Cambridge, MA, Pfeffer says the company has already launched a handful of programs that draw on work by its founders, as well as new pursuits. Among these initiatives is a translational science effort that will test basic hypotheses about cancer immunotherapy in clinical tumor samples and animal models.

Rather than focus on a single target or approach, Jounce will address 3 main classes of immunotherapies: switching off brakes on the immune system, stimulating the immune system, and altering the tumor microenvironment. “We're obviously not going to do everything in immunotherapy,” Pfeffer says, “but the breadth of the approach here means that we're looking at multiple mechanisms of action.”

Louis Weiner, MD, one of Jounce's scientific cofounders and director of the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center in Washington, DC, says that whereas larger pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies are developing cancer immunotherapy drugs, those firms may concentrate more closely on individual drug candidates. “I think there is a role for a company that has a focus that is mechanism oriented as opposed to drug oriented,” he says.

“The only significant predator that cancers have to deal with as they develop is the immune system,” Weiner adds. “The last 5 to 10 years have really witnessed an explosion in our understanding of how cancers defeat, deflect, or hide from the immune response.”