SQZ Biotech and Roche Expand Collaboration to Develop Cell Therapies for Cancer Patients

SQZ Biotech and Roche Expand Collaboration to Develop Cell Therapies for Cancer Patients

SQZ Biotech and Roche are expanding their collaboration to jointly develop and market cancer treatments based on antigen-presenting cells (APCs).

According to SQZ, the partnership combines the expertise of SQZ in cell therapy with that of Roche in cancer immunotherapy. This approach holds promise across a wide range of cancer indications.

“We believe that this new expanded collaboration accelerates our ability to bring a broad range of impactful oncology products to market,” Armon Sharei, PhD, SQZ’s founder and CEO, said in a press release. Sharei said the company’s mission is “to create transformative cell therapies,” and this alliance could lead to therapeutic advances for cancer patients.

APCs are immune cells that detect and engulf foreign pathogens and digest them into many different fragments. Some of these fragments may be used to trigger an immune response, and APCs work to “present” these fragments to T-cells, directing them against cells or invaders carrying those proteins.

SQZ’s platform is designed to make APCs present cancer fragments in an effective manner. According to the company, injecting these APCs into an animal induces powerful and specific responses by T-cells, which are key in eliminating cancer cells. This may lead to a strong effect against any cell with the target protein that is otherwise inaccessible with other cell-based cancer immunotherapy strategies.

Also important, the technology’s engineering and manufacturing process does not require cellular expansion or genetic modification, which greatly improves the anticipated safety profile, shortens the production time, and reduces costs, according to SQZ.

“This collaboration allows for a SQZ APC product engine that could potentially generate products with more potent immunologic responses through a simplified, more efficient manufacturing process,” said Howard Bernstein, MD, PhD, SQZ’s chief scientific officer.

The companies are expanding the 2015 Roche collaboration to jointly develop treatments derived from white blood cells, which besides T-cells, include other immune cell types such as B-cells, monocytes, and macrophages.

Besides upfront and near-term milestone payments of up to $125 million total, the terms of the agreement include additional payments to SQZ for clinical, regulatory, and sales milestones per new product generated, as well as more than $1 billion for development milestones.