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Roche Collaborates With SQZ Biotech Startup On Immuno-Oncology Treatments

Roche Collaborates With SQZ Biotech Startup On Immuno-Oncology Treatments

Pharmaceutical giant Roche, has developed a partnership with Cambridge, Massachusetts-based SQZ Biotech to take advantage of the startup’s new take on cell engineering. Roche has high hopes that the collaboration will deliver an immuno-oncology treatment worthy of the buzz currently surrounding the immunotherapy space.

SQZ Biotech – which is an offshoot of Robert Langer’s lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) – is set to receive over $500 million from Roche, if the company’s novel technology is able to deliver. Analysts aren’t sure what the cancer drug veterans at Roche will be offering SQZ as upfront capital.

“The key things we’re going after is oncology indications,” said Dr. Armon Sharei, CEO of SQZ. “Getting proteins in B cells has not been possible with conventional systems.” SQZ Biotech recently received $5 million in series A round funding to get the company on its feet.

SQZ Biotech’s proprietary technology has the ability to introduce tumor-related antigens into cells extracted from individuals, and subsequently reintroduce the modified cells into the same patients from which they were taken. The company developed the technology following an almost-accidental breakthrough when researchers discovered that applying pressure – or squeezing – the cell disrupted the integrity of the cell membrane, allowing for the introduction of exogenous molecules into the cell.

Along with the technology’s potential for revolutionizing the field of immuno-oncology, the developers say it could also be useful in the treatment of autoimmune disorders. “Your immune system gets activated against fragments,” said Sharei. He goes on to say that these fragments are then displayed on the surface of cells, which can trigger an immune response leading to the production of targeted T cells aimed at destroying the antigen.

“What’s critical here is that this is a long term commitment to develop therapeutics together,” said Amy Schulman, a member of Polaris Partners, a firm brought in to help monitor SQZ’s progress throughout their collaboration with Roche. Schulman also serves as executive chairman of the board.