Bob Langer-found­ed cell ther­a­py play­er loads up $65M to fund Roche-part­nered can­cer work while ex­pand­ing in­to vac­cines for in­fec­tious dis­eases

SQZ Biotech isn’t plan­ning to test any­thing against Covid-19 for now. But when the next pan­dem­ic strikes, CEO Ar­mon Sharei wants its cell ther­a­py plat­form — which is es­sen­tial­ly al­so a vac­cine plat­form — to be ready for plug-and-play.

The ex­pan­sion in­to in­fec­tious dis­eases is one of many things the Wa­ter­town, MA-based com­pa­ny plans to ac­com­plish with its lat­est $65 mil­lion Se­ries D.

Bob Langer

Vi­ral and bac­te­r­i­al in­fec­tions, both the chron­ic kind and the ones that can pose a sud­den, glob­al threat, had been on his radar since his PhD days at Bob Langer’s MIT lab, Sharei told End­points News. Now that they have pushed the first im­ple­men­ta­tion of their cell en­gi­neer­ing tech­nique in­to the clin­ic and fig­ured out the man­u­fac­tur­ing set­up — in the form of an on­col­o­gy pro­gram part­nered with Roche — with an­oth­er lined up for lat­er this year, the time is ripe for some prepa­ra­tion for an IND fil­ing in 2021.

As with the ap­pli­ca­tions in can­cer, two of SQZ’s three tech plat­forms, name­ly the anti­gen pre­sent­ing cells (APC) and ac­ti­vat­ing anti­gen car­ri­ers (AAC), can come in­to play here. Un­der both ap­proach­es, cells get squeezed and, as their mem­branes get tem­porar­i­ly dis­rupt­ed, have ma­te­r­i­al slipped in­side. That car­go of in­ter­est can be a vi­ral pro­tein for well-char­ac­ter­ized virus­es, such as the spike pro­tein in SARS-CoV-2, or even a whole chunk of the virus in sit­u­a­tions where sci­en­tists have yet to de­ci­pher a nov­el pathogen. The for­mer in­volves white blood cells while the lat­ter us­es red blood cells as a kind of Tro­jan horse at var­i­ous lym­phoid or­gans to kick off an im­mune re­sponse.

Ei­ther way, it di­verges from the tra­di­tion­al goal of in­duc­ing an an­ti­body re­sponse.

“Ul­ti­mate­ly the core prob­lem we ad­dress with the APC pro­gram and the AAC pro­gram re­lates to gen­er­at­ing CD8 T cells re­spons­es which all these pri­or at­tempts at can­cer vac­cines had failed,” Sharei said. “A lot of times vac­cines can on­ly ever work pro­phy­lac­ti­cal­ly. But this mech­a­nism of vac­ci­na­tion, be­cause it lever­ages killer T cells, it could be used for both con­texts.”

On top of that dual func­tion, this plat­form promis­es to soothe the man­u­fac­tur­ing headache that’s be­set even de­vel­op­ers of the most ad­vanced vac­cine can­di­dates in the Covid-19 race.

Be­gin­ning with the very first pa­tient they dosed this Jan­u­ary, SQZ has been able to com­plete pro­cess­ing the cells with­in 24 hours and re­turn them to pa­tients for in­fu­sion — ship­ping and re­lease test­ing in­clud­ed — in a week. The rel­a­tive­ly sim­ple pro­ce­dure and ab­sence of pre­con­di­tion­ing re­quire­ments have al­so al­lowed their tri­al, in­volv­ing pa­tients with HPV+ tu­mors, to con­tin­ue.

To go even faster, Sharei said his team will be look­ing to con­sol­i­date that whole process — from the ac­tu­al squeez­ing to cell wash­ing and oth­ers — in­to a sin­gle box that can be de­ployed at a point-of-care fa­cil­i­ty, shav­ing even more time off.

“There’s ob­vi­ous­ly some en­gi­neer­ing work to do, I don’t want to triv­i­al­ize it, but there is no big leap nec­es­sary to in­te­grate it,” Sharei said.

Dis­cus­sions with reg­u­la­tors will al­so need to es­tab­lish the kinds of qual­i­ty con­trol and test­ing that would be need­ed if the ma­te­r­i­al no longer needs to be shipped across the coun­try.

With 100 full timers on staff, SQZ is al­so con­tin­u­ing to plough on the au­toim­mune field with its third and ear­li­est-stage plat­form, the to­ler­iz­ing anti­gen car­ri­ers (TACs), which al­so lever­ages red blood cells.

The Ju­ve­nile Di­a­betes Re­search Foun­da­tion is a col­lab­o­ra­tor here, and their T1D Fund has chipped in on the lat­est round af­ter back­ing SQZ’s Se­ries C.

Oth­er ex­ist­ing in­vestors such as GV, Il­lu­mi­na Ven­tures, In­vus, Nan­oDi­men­sion and Po­laris Part­ners al­so par­tic­i­pat­ed in the round, which was led by Temasek.

IDC: Life Sci­ences Firms Must Em­brace Dig­i­tal Trans­for­ma­tion Now

Pre-pandemic, the life sciences industry had settled into a pattern. The average drug took 12 years and $2.9 billion to bring to market, and it was an acceptable mode of operations, according to Nimita Limaye, Research Vice President for Life Sciences R&D Strategy and Technology at IDC.

COVID-19 changed that, and served as a proof-of-concept for how technology can truly help life sciences companies succeed and grow, Limaye said. She recently spoke about industry trends at Egnyte’s Life Sciences Summit 2022. You should watch the entire session, free and on-demand, but here’s a brief recap of why she’s urging life sciences companies to embrace digital transformation.

FDA ap­proves one of the prici­est new treat­ments of all time — blue­bird's gene ther­a­py for be­ta tha­lassemia

The FDA on Wednesday approved the first gene therapy for a chronic condition — bluebird bio’s new Zynteglo (beti-cel) as a potentially curative treatment for those with transfusion-dependent thalassemia.

The thumbs-up from the FDA follows a unanimous adcomm vote in June, with outside experts pointing to extraordinary efficacy, with 89% of subjects with TDT who received beti-cel having achieved transfusion independence.

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Geoffrey Porges, new Schrödinger CFO

Long­time an­a­lyst Ge­of­frey Porges de­parts SVB to lead fi­nances at a drug dis­cov­ery shop

Geoffrey Porges has ended his two-decade run as a biotech analyst, as the former SVB Securities vice chair began as CFO of Schrödinger on Thursday.

The long-running analyst, who previously headed up vaccines marketing at Merck before the turn of the millennium, will lead the financial operations of the 700-employee company as Schrödinger broadens its focus from a drug discovery partner to also building out an in-house pipeline, with clinical trial No. 1 set to begin next quarter.

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Joel Dudley, new partner at Innovation Endeavors (Bosch Health Campus)

For­mer Google CEO’s VC is mak­ing a big­ger push in­to the biotech world, hir­ing promi­nent Ther­a­nos skep­tic

Venture capital firm Innovation Endeavors has mainly had its focus on investments across the tech space, but it has been slowly turning its attention to the biotech world. Now, a new partner is coming into the fold showing that its interest in biotech is likely to grow further.

The Silicon Valley-based company, which is headed up by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, has brought on Joel Dudley as a partner. According to Dudley’s LinkedIn page, he is joining Innovation Endeavors after serving as the chief science officer of biotech startup Tempus Labs since 2020.

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James Sabry, Roche global head of pharma partnering

Roche, Genen­tech plunk down $60M up­front to part­ner with Chi­nese phar­ma on PRO­TAC-based prostate can­cer drug

Roche and Genentech are always on the hunt for deals, and on Thursday they found their newest partner.

The pair will team up with the Chinese pharma company Jemincare to push forward a new program for prostate cancer, the companies announced. Roche is ponying up $60 million upfront to get its hands on the candidate and promising up to $590 million in biobucks, plus royalties, down the line.

In return, Genentech will get a worldwide license to develop the program, known as JMKX002992, and bring it to market.

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Andrew Hopkins, Exscientia CEO

Ex­sci­en­tia ter­mi­nates Bay­er pact half a year ear­ly, col­lect­ing small por­tion of €240M promised

Bayer and Exscientia are winding down their three-year collaboration, leaving the big German pharma to take the AI-designed compounds born out of the pact further.

London-based Exscientia revealed in its Q2 update that the partners have “mutually agreed to end” their collaboration, which kicked off in early 2020, after recently achieving a drug discovery milestone. In an SEC filing, Exscientia said it terminated the pact on May 30, about six months early.

Bayer's first DTC ad campaign for chronic kidney disease drug Kerendia spells out its benefits

Bay­er aims to sim­pli­fy the com­plex­i­ties of CKD with an ABC-themed ad cam­paign

Do you know the ABCs of CKD in T2D? Bayer’s first ad campaign for Kerendia tackles the complexity of chronic kidney disease with a play on the acronym (CKD) and its connection to type 2 diabetes (T2D).

Kerendia was approved last year as the first and only non-steroidal mineralocorticoid receptor antagonist to treat CKD in people with type 2 diabetes.

In the TV commercial launched this week, A is for awareness, B is for belief and C is for cardiovascular, explained in the ad as awareness of the connection between type 2 and kidney disease, belief that something can be done about it, and cardiovascular events that may be reduced with treatment.

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James Mock, incoming CFO at Moderna

Mod­er­na taps new CFO from PerkinElmer af­ter for­mer one-day CFO oust­ed

When Moderna hired a new CFO last year,  it didn’t expect to see him gone after only one day. Today the biotech named his — likely much more vetted — replacement.

The mRNA company put out word early Wednesday that after the untimely departure of then brand-new CFO Jorge Gomez, it has now found a replacement in James Mock, the soon-to-be former CFO at diagnostics and analytics company PerkinElmer.

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Etleva Kadilli, director of UNICEF’s supply division

GSK lands first-ever UNICEF con­tract for malar­ia vac­cine worth $170M

GSK has landed a new first from UNICEF the first-ever contract for malaria vaccines, worth up to $170 million for 18 million vaccine doses distributed over the next three years.

The vaccine, known as Mosquirix or RTS,S, won WHO’s backing last October after a controversial start, but UNICEF said these doses will potentially save thousands of lives every year.

“We hope this is just the beginning,” Etleva Kadilli, director of UNICEF’s supply division, said. “Continued innovation is needed to develop new and next-generation vaccines to increase available supply, and enable a healthier vaccine market. This is a giant step forward in our collective efforts to save children’s lives and reduce the burden of malaria as part of wider malaria prevention and control programmes.”