Cell-squeezing medical startup raises $5 million

The narrow channels in a CellSqueeze chip can compress a million cells per second.
The narrow channels in a CellSqueeze chip can compress a million cells per second.

A device that could one day deliver drugs by squeezing cells like sponges has drawn $5 million in venture capital.

SQZ Biotech, the life sciences company behind the CellSqueeze platform, has completed its series A funding round. The MIT spinout, now based at UMass Boston’s Venture Development Center, has raised more than $7 million in equity and grant funding, chief executive Armon Sharei said.

Although the company’s device is still being tested by business and academic researchers, its mode of action is simple to grasp. With a quick shot of compressed nitrogen, users can blast a mixture of cells and foreign molecules through dozens of tiny channels that squeeze the cells.

Sharei and his colleagues hypothesize that when they emerge from the constriction, the cells develop small, temporary pores that molecules — like drugs or DNA — will flow through. The hope is that eventually, doctors will be able to develop treatments that get squeezed into cells and then teach people’s immune systems what to attack.

In the past few months, Sharei said, the company has almost doubled its workforce to 20 staff and contractors and centralized its operations at UMass. With fundraising completed, he said, they hope to conduct more research, consider commercial partnerships, and evaluate the latest models of the CellSqueeze that have been improved upon by SQZ’s engineers.

“It works better and it’s less complicated to make because of design improvements,” Sharei said.

SQZ was founded in 2013 to build upon the lab work of Klavs Jensen, prolific entrepreneur Robert Langer, Sharei, and others. The Series A funding round was led by Polaris Partners, and Amy Schulman, a partner at the firm, will chair SQZ’s board of directors.