Langer’s cell engineering immunotherapy play SQZ nabs $16M


SQZ Biotech has closed a $16 million Series B round to develop next-gen cell therapies. The financing will go to preclinical development for immunotherapy programs in oncology and other diseases.

Founded in 2013, the Boston, MA-based company raised $5 million in a Series A led by Polaris Partners last year. Polaris also co-led the latest round alongside nanotech-focused investor NanoDimension with participation from other existing and new investors.

“Soon the real promise of their cell re-engineering technology will be applied across a variety of applications to treat a broad range of ailments," Amy Schulman, venture partner at Polaris and executive chair of SQZ, said in a statement. “I am confident this technology will represent a meaningful difference in people’s lives.”

SQZ recently hired a new CBO to head up its business development efforts: Kris Elverum, who previously led U.S. commercial model development for Novartis’ CAR T-cell products. Even before this, last year the fledgling biotech had already done a major immuno-oncology pact with Roche ($RHHBY) that’s worth more than $500 million.

The company is based on technology known as CellSqueeze, which came out of the work of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) professors Klavs Jensen, Robert Langer and Armon Sharei. Drug delivery specialist Langer is, of course, a prolific entrepreneur and seemingly omnipresent within the biotech industry.

"While most existing methods are confined to delivering nucleic acids into a narrow range of cell types, CellSqueeze has demonstrated a robust ability to deliver a diversity of materials into a broad range of cells," SQZ founder and CEO Armon Sharei told FierceBiotech.

"Moreover, the technology has demonstrated far fewer functional side-effects on treated cells relative to existing techniques. We are leveraging these unique capabilities to develop novel cell therapy concepts that could be more effective and scalable than existing approaches," he added.

CellSqueeze is designed to disrupt cell membranes to enable the engineering of cell function in order to improve the ability of a patient’s own cells to combat diseases. The process works by deforming the target cells to induce temporary disruption of the membrane in order to introduce the delivery material before it is resealed. The company says it can operate at throughputs of more than 1 million cells with various delivery materials to impart all sorts of functions.

“SQZ has developed a simple, yet immensely powerful method to engineer cells,” said Eric Moessinger of NanoDimension, who joined the SQZ board of directors as part of the financing.