Tiny Boston Startup SQZ Biotech Scores a $500 Million+ Cell Therapy Pact with Roche
-Company Also Bolsters Board of Directors and Scientific Advisory Board with Outstanding Leaders
SQZ Biotech (SQZ) announced today a partnership with Roche to develop a cell therapy platform that would empower a patient’s own immune cells to fight a broad range of cancers. The deal leverages SQZ’s pioneering technology to engineer B cells as a therapeutic platform for oncology – a novel approach with the potential to overcome many of the shortcomings of current cell-based therapies. The agreement provides for over $500M in upfront and potential clinical, regulatory and sales milestone-based payments for advancement of all products across all planned indications, in addition to royalties on potential future products.
“The therapeutic potential of SQZ technology builds on our ground breaking ability to engineer cell function through intracellular delivery – a long standing challenge in immunology,” said Dr. Armon Sharei, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of SQZ. “In collaboration with the renowned team at Roche, we seek to engineer a patient’s own immune system to target tumors more effectively and bring hope to people suffering from cancer.”
The proposed therapy involves using SQZ technology to introduce proteins into a patient’s B-cells which will then help activate killer T-cells to attack the cancer. The ability to engineer such a response is fundamentally dependent on effective delivery of tumor-associated proteins, or antigens, into the patient’s B cells. This delivery process is uniquely enabled by SQZ’s technology and harnesses the power of the patient’s own immune system to fight tumors more effectively across a broad range of cancer types.
Executive Chair of the SQZ Board Amy Schulman noted, “We are excited about this partnership because it capitalizes on the unique scientific platform that SQZ provides to engineer immune cell function. This is an important first step towards a new generation of cell based therapies.”
SQZ Biotech also announced the addition of two new board members: Dr. Mark Murcko, a key contributor to seven marketed drugs and the former CTO and SAB Chair of Vertex, and Garry Nicholson, President and Chief Executive Officer of XTuit Pharmaceuticals, Inc., a biopharmaceutical company developing novel micro-environment activated therapeutics and prior head of Pfizer’s global cancer business. Professor Arlene Sharpe, leader of the Dana-Farber Cancer Immunology Program and co-inventor of the first anti-PD-1 therapy, will join the SQZ Scientific Advisory Board which already comprises a number of thought leaders including professors: Darrell Irvine (MIT), Tyler Jacks (MIT), Christopher Love (MIT), and Ulrich von Andrian (Harvard).
“We welcome the outstanding minds that are joining our efforts,” added Schulman. “Mark, Garry and Arlene bring a host of scientific and business experience that will help us with a very exciting period of development and commercialization. We are also proud of Armon, an exceptional young leader, and the entire SQZ team as they work together on what promises to be an exciting journey.”
About SQZ Biotech
SQZ Biotechnologies was spun out of MIT based on a scientific breakthrough by Dr. Armon Sharei, Prof. Klavs Jensen and Prof. Robert Langer. The company is based in Boston, MA and backed by Polaris Venture Partners and 20/20 Healthcare Partners. Applications for the SQZ platform beyond oncology are numerous, with the company planning to pursue powerful immune engineering approaches in a number of indications. SQZ maintains the exclusive worldwide license from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for CellSqueeze for any application.
About Dr. Mark Murcko
Dr. Murcko brings over 25 years of leadership experience in the biomedical field. He has been a key contributor to seven marketed drugs in the fields of glaucoma, HIV, HCV, and Cystic Fibrosis. Dr. Murcko is a lecturer in the Bioengineering department at MIT, serves on numerous biotech boards and is the former CTO and SAB Chair of Vertex Pharmaceuticals.
About Garry Nicholson
Mr. Nicholson brings 20 years of experience in oncology drug development and commercialization. He most recently served as President, Pfizer Oncology, from May 2008 until March 2015. As the first leader of Pfizer’s global, dedicated oncology business, Mr. Nicholson had direct responsibility for business strategy and operations, including the oncology sales and marketing organizations globally, clinical development for both early and late stage pipeline candidates, and for licensing and acquisitions.
About Professor Arlene Sharpe
Dr. Sharpe is the George Fabyan Professor of Comparative Pathology at Harvard Medical School, Head of the Division of Immunology in the Department of Microbiology and Immunobiology, and Co-Director of the Harvard Institute of Translational Immunology at Harvard Medical School, and a member of the Department of Pathology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Dr. Sharpe earned her A. B from Harvard University and her M.D. and Ph.D. degrees from Harvard Medical School. She currently serves as the Vice President of the American Association of Immunologists.
Dr. Sharpe’s laboratory investigates T cell costimulation and its immunoregulatory functions. Her laboratory studies the roles of T cell costimulatory and coinhibitory pathways in regulating immune responses needed for the induction and maintenance of T cell tolerance and effective antimicrobial and antitumor immunity. Dr. Sharpe has published over 300 papers and was listed by Thomas Reuters as one of the most Highly Cited Researchers (top 1%) in 2014 and 2015. She was a recipient of the William B. Coley Award for Distinguished Research in Tumor immunology in 2014 for her contributions to the discovery of PD-1 pathway.
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Emily Mendell, 781-522-6732