The global pharma giant F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd. has struck up an alliance that could be worth up to $500 million with SQZ Biotech of Boston to speed development of SQZ’s CellSqueeze drug delivery system.
A spinoff of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, SQZ has devised a way to insert chemical compounds into living cells by squeezing the cells through narrow channels slightly smaller than the cells themselves. Squeezing the cells opens tiny fissures in the cell walls, allowing the chemicals to enter.
Roche plans to use CellSqueeze to insert cancer-fighting proteins into B cells – a kind of white blood cell found in the human immune system. These modified B cells would be injected into cancer patients, in hopes that they would in turn activate the patient’s own immune system to attack and destroy the cancer.
“This is an important first step towards a new generation of cell-based therapies,” said Amy Schulman, executive chair of SQZ’s board.
The $500 million total includes an unspecified up-front investment, as well as payments based on SQZ reaching certain milestones.
SQZ Biotech also added two members to its board: Mark Murcko, former chief technology officer of Boston’s Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc., and Garry Nicholson, chief executive of XTuit Pharmaceuticals Inc. in Waltham.