SQZ Biotechnologies is an extremely compelling private player in the life sciences space that should be on your radar if yASou’re serious about understanding the pipeline of exciting ideas, talent, and organizations on the rise in the US biotechnology space. The company just raised $24 million in a major series B funding round with major participation from Polaris, Google Ventures, Quark, and NanoDimension. In other words, some of the top-tier VC analysts in the world have vetted the technology under the hood at SQZ and bought in with size. We always like to emphasize a “follow the big money” perspective when dealing with biotechnology because that money is usually tied to a process of evaluation by people actually capable of understanding the science.
However, let’s dig a little to highlight what may be special about this company and its core tech. First off, SQZ is a player in an emerging biotech field known as Cell Therapy. This puts the company in league with several fast-growing big board stocks, such as Brainstorm Cell Therapeutics Inc (NASDAQ:BCLI) and PTC Therapeutics, Inc. (NASDAQ:PTCT), and due to its current partnership model, Roche Holding Ltd. (ADR) (OTCMKTS:RHHBY) may come to the table at some point with a bid for SQZ given that its core tech can complement Roche’s, or so it would appear.
SQZ Biotechnologies is a Massachusetts-based, privately held company developing cellular therapies for multiple indications using the proprietary CellSqueeze technology. Through internal research programs and external partnerships, SQZ’s unique cell engineering capabilities are being used to develop a new generation of cell therapies to address a wide range of clinical challenges.
As the company notes in its materials, “As our understanding of biology continues to improve, scientists have become increasingly interested in the potential of using engineered cells as therapeutics. In contrast to small molecule drugs and biologics, which conduct simple functions at the molecular level, cell-based therapeutics have the potential to leverage a diversity of complex cellular functions to impart their clinical benefit. Early implementations of cell-based therapies have already yielded dramatic benefits for some patients.”
The company recently announced it was selected as a member of the 2017 class of World Economic Forum Technology Pioneers. According to the release, SQZ is one of only thirty companies selected and was recognized for its potential to significantly impact business and society through new technologies.
“SQZ aspires to tackle a range of challenging diseases with its unique approach to cell therapies,” remarked SQZ Chief Executive Officer, Armon Sharei, PhD. “We share the World Economic Forums vision for improving the world through technological advancement and are honored to be a part of its 2017 class of technology pioneers.”
The Next Big Thing
The company has pioneered a technological process that, through deformation of cell form by squeezing, effectively disrupts the cellular membrane, creating openings for targeted substances to enter the cellular system before the membrane closes back up.
The company is currently engaged in a collaborative project in partnership with Roche on what is known as APC, or antigen presenting cell, therapy geared toward making use of SQZ core tech in the treatment of cancer. SQZ is also engaged in two major pre-clinical programs: one is focused on generating APC therapies for oncology indications, while the other is aimed at engineering red blood cells and other immune cells as a tolerizing agent for therapeutic potential across multiple indications.
This is why we see eager participation in a major series B funding round by some of the best early-stage biotech venture money on the planet.
“This is exactly the kind of groundbreaking technology the Quark Venture Global Health Sciences Venture Fund was set up to support. The technology that originates out of Drs. Jensen and Langer’s laboratories finds a new and efficient way to get molecules into cells,” said Karimah Es Sabar, Chief Executive Officer of Quark Venture. “This is a game changer that has the potential to enable new, high profile therapeutic approaches to address our most challenging diseases. We are pleased to join other significant investors and to partner with the team at SQZ Biotech.”
Another indication of the potential quality-level in play at SQZ is the team the company has been able to attract. Just recently, that team has been further bolstered by the appointment of Shefali Agarwal, MD, MPH, as Chief Medical Officer. Dr. Agarwal is known as a trained medical oncologist, former SVP and head of development at Curis, and Senior Medical Director at Tesaro. She is joined by Bruce Beutel, PhD as Chief Business Officer. Dr. Beutel joined SQZ from Merck where he worked in Business Development & Licensing since 2009.
The company also just beefed up its scientific advisory board, adding David Sachs, MD of Harvard Medical Schools Hospital and Columbia University, to its brain trust. “Having discovered MHC Class II presentation and its importance in immune responses as well as conducting the first clinical trial in transplantation tolerance, Dr. Sachs is a thought leader in immune tolerance.”
At this stage – still privately held equity, still pre-clinical – the most important signals to see in a company like SQZ are about who’s biting on the funding rounds and what type of talent is coming on board. SQZ is already starting to make waves along those lines, which says volumes about two major themes for the company: the validity of the premise underlying its core technology, and the robustness of its intellectual property protection provisions.
This is a company worth watching.