A Series C funding round by SQZ Biotech – a cell therapy firm developing new treatments for multi-therapeutic areas – has been oversubscribed. The company raised $72 million, three times more than the sum raised in its Series B round funding in 2016.
The funding round could be an indicator of investor confidence in the growth of cell therapy, even though SQZ Biotech’s drug program is still in its infancy.
The five-year-old Massachusetts firm hopes to use the funding would be the first step towards taking cell therapy for clinical trials for oncology and autoimmune indications. The company has not provided a timeline for achieving this would occur.
New investors join existing ones in Series C funding round
SQZ Biotech co-founder and CEO, Armon Sharei, expressed gratitude for the funding, saying the cell therapy platform had transformative potential and that the new infusion of funds would bring the therapy one step closer to the patients who need it.
Existing investors participating in this round of funding are: Bridger Healthcare Partners, Global Health Science Fund, Google venture capital arm GV, the JDRF T1D Fund, NanoDimension and Polaris.
Everblue, Illumina Ventures, Invus, Viva Ventures Biotech Group and Orient Life are new investors.
NanoDimension and Polaris led the initial Series B round in September 2016 with $16 million. In December 2016, GV and Quark Venture added an additional $8 million to that round of funding.
Following the funding round, SQZ added Marc Elia, a partner at Bridger Healthcare, and Zafi Avnur, the Chief Scientific Officer at Quark Ventures to its Board of Directors.
SQZ’s executive chairperson and partner at Polaris, Amy Schulman, described the biotechnology start up as “a company and a team that delivers on its commitments. We welcome the new investors and board members and look forward to seeing the clinical results”.
SQZ’s technology targets killer T cells, which it triggers to seek out and destroy tumors.
The SQZ platform employs a simple process to directly engineer complex cell functions that do not affect cell health, CNBC reported.
The SQZ says its lead program is in antigen-presenting cells in HPV-related tumor indications. It hopes that in the future it will be able to address tumors of all cancer types.
SQZ is also involved with pre-clinical programs for type 1 diabetes and other autoimmune indications. Its other projects concentrate on suppressing autoimmune reactions and protecting biologic drugs from immune system reactions.
SQZ has been praised as a possible gamechanger in biotechnology in the US, leading it to attract top venture capitalists.
The start-up says its engineering strengths are being used to “develop a new generation of cell therapies to address a wide range of clinical challenges”.
Rubbing shoulders with big players
SQZ partnered with drug giant Roche in 2015 in a deal worth more than $500 million to develop a cell therapy platform that would empower a patient’s own immune cells to fight a broad range of cancers in immuno-oncology.
SQZ uses what it calls “CellSqueeze” technology, described on the Genengnews website as entailing the engineering of B cells “in order to introduce tumor-associated proteins into a patient’s B-cells, which will then help activate killer T-cells to attack the cancer”.
“CellSqueeze” technology is a microfluidic chip that enables the delivery of materials into almost any cell type, even primary human-derived cells.
The American Society of Gene and Cell Therapy defines cell therapy, which SQZ is working on, as “the administration of living whole cells to the patient for the treatment of a disease”.
Some of the big players in cell therapy are NASDAQ-listed firms, such as Brainstorm Cell Therapeutics Inc. and PTC Therapeutics Inc.