Roche ups cell therapy interest through SQZ expansion deal

Roche has expanded its partnership with SQZ Biotechnologies to codevelop therapeutics derived from peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) in a deal worth up to $1 billion.

In 2015, Swiss Biopharma Roche partnered with SQZ to use its B cell engineering technology in the development of cell therapies for cancer. This week, the firm has expanded the partnership to jointly develop and commercialize products based on antigen presenting cells (APCs) created by the SQZ platform.

“SQZ entered into a first collaboration with Roche in December 2015,” Roche spokesperson Simone Oeschger told BioProcess Insider. “The collaboration has progressed well and we think that the SQZ therapeutic concept has the potential to drive patient-specific immune responses in a variety of oncology indications.”

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Under terms of the deal, Roche will pay SQZ up to $125 million (€109 million) upfront, but SQZ may receive development milestone payments of over $1 billion.

Rebecca Cohen, a spokesperson from Watertown, Massachusetts-based SQZ, added that the deal was driven by both the strong existing relationship and the positive data coming out of both its internal APC program and the Roche partnered program.

“There was strong scientific rationale behind combining them into a unified APC product with potential for stronger immune response and simplified process. The efforts in development are collaborative from early to commercial.”

SQZ and cell therapies

When Roche partnered with SQZ in 2015, it was the first foray into cellular therapy for the Swiss pharma giant.

“For the time being this is our only partnership in this area,” Oeschger confirmed. “However, we continue to monitor this space and are looking for technological advancements that could expand the use of cellular therapies across an array of tumor types and indications.”

Other big pharma rivals, such as Novartis, have concentrated on the chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell space. However, SQZ technology looks to modify B cells as a way of super-charging a patient’s T cells to target cancer.

Antigen presenting cells (APCs) are analogous to the generals of the immune system. The firm describes them as “soldiers,” interacting with T cells and shaping and immune response, whether inflammatory or tolerogenic. “By engineering APCs and their interactions with T cells, SQZ could potentially impact numerous immune related diseases, including cancer and autoimmune disorders,” SQZ claims.

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