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Armon Sharei
CEO & Founder
SQZ Biotech

23 February 2023

Can you highlight some key developments for SQZ Biotech over the past year?

SQZ focuses on creating new cell therapies, leveraging the patient's own cells to combat disease for them. We are working towards a more accessible format where you can actually create these cell therapies at the hospital itself. Most of our work has been around cancer, ultimately expanding into autoimmune disease as well. As a startup with the goal to make a difference for people, one of the company’s biggest milestones was that in December 2021, we saw our first responding patient in one of our cancer trials. Another exciting thing was that one of our newer generation programs went into the clinic - an improved version of the cancer therapy that helped the head and neck cancer patient in December – and we are extremely excited to see what this trial does. 

SQZ has the vision to simplify cell therapy - eventually enabling therapies to be produced at the hospital - which will make it much more globally accessible so that many people can benefit from it and not only certain niches of the developed countries.

How close do you think we are to actually being able to have this in a hospital and to actually implement it at scale?


With cell therapies, you are basically engineering these small biological machines which can be extremely powerful in what they can do relative to the other therapeutic systems people have used in the past.


The challenge is that you would need to take the cells out of the patient, ship them to a central factory to be engineered in a cleanroom, ship them back to the hospital, and then have them injected back into the patient. This entire process chain makes cell therapy extremely expensive and complicated. 

SQZ discovered, kind of by accident, that if you squish cells at high speeds, you can deliver material into them. This is an almost stupid, simple solution to a very complicated problem, and has meant we can use this method as an underpinning to make much simpler manufacturing units that do not need a cleanroom anymore, and could eventually be implemented at hospital sites. We are going to start using this machine for our first autoimmune disease therapy launching next year, and this would be the test case to then start working with regulators and rolling it out to hospitals. We believe that our technology is the key to making cell therapies more accessible globally. 

How far can SQZ’s current funding take the company in its developments? 

Where we are right now, and this is typically the general dynamic for most biotechs, is you are essentially a loss making entity until you have a drug approved that helps recoup all of that investment. Investors or partners are betting on the fact that you are going to sink a substantial amount of money into a project with no revenue whatsoever, and then if it works, the revenue will come. SQZ is currently funded until Q4 2023. We will have to do another fundraising cycle on the basis of our next set of clinical data, which will hopefully demonstrate the efficacy of our technology so that someone decides to keep funding the development. 

What is currently the greatest challenge SQZ faces?

The financial markets for biotech are currently tough as they are at trough relative to their historical levels. The markets rocketed disproportionately during the heat of the pandemic, which precipitated a crash subsequent to that. Another thing is that the entire structure of how the biotech world works and when someone would ever see or become aware of us, is significantly less than with tech for example.

Can you elaborate on SQZ’s trials success? 

The main concept we are pursuing in three of our trials is how do you tell the immune system what the tumor looks like so it can attack. In the trial where we had our first clinical response, we took the patient’s immune cells out of the blood, used our Cell Squeeze technology to deliver fragments of the tumor into those cells, and once you inject these cells back into the patient, they are going to process those fragments and act as Generals that will show the soldier cells what they need to destroy. What we saw in the patient is that after the treatment, his tumor started to shrink, his symptoms started to improve, and if you took a sample of his tumor, you saw a massive infiltration of these killer cells in there. A really good thing with this treatment is that we were able to produce his cell therapy in under 24 hours, as well as that he hardly had any side effects. 

We believe cell therapies could be the new wave of how therapeutics work for patients. Our cells are these really powerful biological machines, which in principle, can do so much more than any of the more conventional modes like small molecules or biologics can. The challenge is in engineering the cells. With Cell Squeeze, we think we can actually simplify the process and really engineer many different things about cells. Our goal is thus to be the underpinning of this whole new wave of cell therapies as we can provide a format which allows you to create many different things that can have a massive impact on patients.

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