SQZ founder Armon Sharei opens Portal to simplify intracellular delivery

As SQZ Biotechnologies slips away, the biotech’s founder and former CEO Armon Sharei, Ph.D., is launching a new cell engineering platform outfit dubbed Portal Biotechnologies.

The Cambridge, Mass.-based biotech hopes to simplify intracellular delivery via new advances in RNA, gene editing and AI-driven discovery tech. Portal’s initial product suite is designed to deliver many different types of cargo to a wide range of cell types.    

The company, which launched earlier this year, is exiting stealth with a clutch of partnerships already in hand, touting ongoing collaborations with Big Pharmas, large academic centers and unnamed equipment manufacturers, according to a Dec. 12 release.

While Portal declined to disclose specific names of partners, the biotech is a member of cell and gene therapy accelerator Bayer Co.Lab and is also affiliated with the Roche Accelerator, an innovation hub in China.

“Given the robust cell therapy ecosystem in China and our deep respect for Roche's scientific capabilities, we set up a small team in Shanghai that are members of the Roche Accelerator,” Portal CEO Sharei told Fierce Biotech via email.

Portal’s Beta R&D scale product is the basis of several ongoing partnerships, with the company’s tech able to integrate and work with existing equipment to ensure rapid adoption across applications, according to the company.   

Beyond Portal’s initial focus on supplying enabling technology for research and clinical applications, the company also intends to develop a suite of cell modification modules. These modules will contain various cell modifying cargoes that can impart specific functionality in a cell without altering the genome.

“Cells are the biological machines that underpin life. If we can learn to understand their intricate functions and engineer them effectively, it will unleash a world of therapeutic possibilities,” Sharei said in this morning's release.

The CEO believes many technologies used to study and change cell function are limited by delivery constraints. Seamless access to the intracellular space is necessary and Portal hopes to achieve this holy grail by implementing a robust, scalable solution that focuses on emerging drug modalities.

Sharei is joined by Alec Barclay, former chief operating officer of T2 Biosystems, who is taking on the same role at Portal.

Sharei’s new company is coming into view while SQZ struggles to stay afloat. Last month, the cell therapy biotech let go of 80% of its staff, including numerous C-suite executives, in efforts to claw back some cash. SQZ is currently seeking strategic alternatives for the business, although Sharei told Fierce that he is no longer involved in his former biotech's processes.