SQZ raises $72M as cell therapies close in on clinical trials

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SQZ Biotechnologies has raised $72 million. The series C round sets the Roche-partnered MIT spinout to advance cell therapy treatments of solid tumors and autoimmune diseases toward the clinic.

Massachusetts-based SQZ made waves a few years back when it emerged from Robert Langer’s lab led by one of the serial entrepreneur’s graduate students and promptly formed an immuno-oncology pact with Roche. On either side of the Roche deal—which is worth $500 million in milestones—SQZ put together series A and B rounds that gave it $29 million to advance its own pipeline.

The flurry of activity reflected the potential of SQZ’s microfluidic technology, which squeezes cells to allow material to pass across the temporarily-disrupted membrane. SQZ thinks the method can arm a wide range of cell types, with a range of materials, to treat disease with minimal off-target effects.

Publicly, SQZ quieted down after its initial flurry of activity, with a few presentations at scientific congresses conferences and minor news updates the only signs of life. But work internally continued apace, advancing the biotech to the point it has been able to raise $72 million to fund the next stage of its evolution. 

New investors Everblue, Illumina Ventures, Invus, Viva Ventures Biotech Group and Orient Life participated in the round, as did existing backers including Bridger Healthcare Partners, Global Health Science Fund, GV, The JDRF T1D Fund, NanoDimension and Polaris.

The syndicate has given SQZ the financial muscle to take anticancer and autoimmune cell therapies through preclinical development. In cancer, SQZ is working on cells designed to deliver antigens and thereby prime a patient’s killer T cells to attack HPV-positive tumors. Cells with similar mechanisms of action tailored to other solid tumors are also in the works.

SQZ has also flipped the idea on its head to create cells that shut down immune responses. These cell therapies could stop autoimmune attacks without affecting the broader immune system, enabling the safe treatment of Type 1 diabetes and other immunological diseases.