Cell therapy start-up scores big in Series C funding round

A Massachusetts start-up specializing in cell therapy has raised $72 million in an oversubscribed Series C funding round, an indication of investors’ growing interest in cell therapy treatments according to Healthcare Weekly.

In its last round of funding in 2016, the five-year-old SQZ Biotech raised $24 million.

SQZ CEO and co-founder, Armon Sharei, said that with the new funding “we have the financial strength to drive our programs in solid tumors and autoimmune diseases to the clinic, taking us closer to our goal of bringing high impact cell therapies to patients in need”.

The start-up attracted new investor partners: Everblue, Illumina Ventures, Invus, Viva Ventures Biotech Group and Orient Life.

The extra funding brings two more people to SQZ’s Board of Directors: Marc Elia, a partner at Bridger Healthcare, and Zafi Avnur, the Chief Scientific Officer at Quark Ventures.

SQZ’s technology targets killer T cells, which it activates to seek out and destroy tumors.

The SQZ platform uses a simple process to directly engineer complex cell functions with no effect on cell health, CNBC reported.

The company says its lead program is in antigen-presenting cells in HPV-related tumor indications and it hopes that in the future it will be able to address tumors in all cancer types.

Additional SQZ pre-clinical programs study type 1 diabetes and other autoimmune indications.  Other projects concentrate on suppressing autoimmune reactions and the protection of biologic drugs from immune system reactions.

SQZ uses “CellSqueeze” technology, which the Genengnews website described as entailing the engineering of B cells as an oncology therapeutic platform in order to introduce tumor-associated proteins into a patient’s B-cells.  These, in turn, help activate killer T-cells to attack the cancer.

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.

SQZ is the latest example in healthcare innovation taking the industry further towards a better future.