SQZ play: Roche doubles down on a $1.37B-plus deal for a new approach to immuno-oncology out of Bob Langer’s lab

Armon Sharei

Whatever Roche $ROG learned about SQZ over the last 33 months clearly only whetted their appetite for much, much more.

This morning SQZ is unveiling a revise-replace-and-expand development pact with the Watertown, MA-based biotech, one of many to emerge from the lab of MIT’s Bob Langer. 

In this new deal Roche is putting up $125 million for an upfront and near-term milestones in a collaboration deal embedded with $1 billion in development goal money. Another $250 million is on the line for each new therapy that manages to make it all the way to an approval.

“It’s a huge step for us,” CEO Armon Sharei told me over the weekend in an advance review of the news that arrived Monday morning. 

An perhaps it’s an even bigger step than he may be willing to allow right now.

Amy Schulman

Sharei popped up over the summer with a $72 million round to back his company, which started 5 years ago on a shoestring budget to essentially work on an interesting development tool. Now the company has 76 staffers — headed to 100 — with a giant partner allied on a clinical development program set to begin next year.

Add in a Big Pharma vet, Polaris partner Amy Schulman, as executive chairman, and you have the perfect profile for an IPO.

Sharei and Schulman veered away from that topic in our discussion, preferring to talk about a maturing development strategy to build a pipeline around their platform cell technology.

Bob Langer

What Sharei had worked on in Langer’s lab was a device that squeezed a cell, creating openings for reengineering the cell into something new. In this case, they’re adding antigens that are intended to provoke a storm of CD8 killer cells that can be directed against cancer, the kind of immuno-oncology play that’s attractive on Wall Street. And they’re promising that their drugs can be manufactured relatively easily, giving them a clear commercial path to follow.

This new deal is with Basel-based pRED, as opposed to Genentech’s gRED side of the R&D operation at Roche. 

That’s the kind of company you want to keep in a lead-up to an IPO, especially when the VC money has piled up.

We’ll likely see how the SQZ play works on Wall Street.

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VP Oncology Biology
Skyhawk Therapeutics Waltham, MA
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Elektroki Boston, MA
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