BOSTON--(BUSINESS WIRE)--SQZ Biotech has been awarded a $100,000 grand prize in MassChallenge’s 2014 startup competition at the accelerator's annual awards ceremony. The Company was founded to commercialize CellSqueeze, an innovative platform that enables virtually any material to enter a cell with unprecedented efficiency through a gentle squeeze. This capability has many applications in biomedical research and drug development, including studying disease mechanisms, identifying novel drugs and engineering cell function for therapeutic use. The Company was selected from a pool of Top 26 Startups announced earlier in October, which were chosen from 1,650 applicants from all over the world. MassChallenge is the world’s largest startup accelerator and first to support high-impact, early-stage entrepreneurs with no strings attached.
In addition, Boeing and the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, or CASIS, awarded SQZ Biotech the CASIS-Boeing Prize for Technology in Space, a more than $200,000 prize, and will facilitate the use of SQZ Biotech's CellSqueeze technology on the International Space Station. SQZ Biotech’s scientists, led by Harrison Bralower, Vice President of Engineering, will study CellSqueeze in the unique microgravity environment offered by the station. Receiving a MassChallenge grand prize and the CASIS-Boeing award, SQZ Biotech has won the largest total prize in the accelerator's five year history.
“We are thrilled that MassChallenge, CASIS and Boeing have recognized us as a top startup and that CellSqueeze will be studied on the International Space Station. Our deceptively simple new way to control cell behavior offers exciting promise for studies of basic cell biology as well as enabling cell-based therapies previously only envisioned,” said Agustin Lopez Marquez, CEO of SQZ Biotech. “Our strategy is to work with strategic partners to expand high-impact applications of CellSqueeze. A few examples include regenerating damaged tissue, training the immune system to fight cancer, creating induced pluripotent stem cells as disease models, understanding disease mechanisms and validating drug candidates for clinical trials, all of which are areas of medical need and high scientific relevance.”
SQZ Biotech was founded in 2013 to commercialize CellSqueeze technology, which was discovered by Dr. Armon Sharei in the labs of Dr. Klavs Jensen, Department Head, Warren K. Lewis Professor of Chemical Engineering, and Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, and Dr. Robert Langer, David H. Koch Institute Professor, both at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The Company has raised over $1 million in seed funding and is further supported by grants and revenue from the Company’s CellSqueeze academic services program. SQZ Biotech has received an exclusive, worldwide license to CellSqueeze from MIT for any application. Investors in SQZ Biotech include the founders, MIT Angels, Walnut Angels, Maine Angels and other private individuals. SQZ Biotech’s board members include Dr. Sharei (chair), Dr. Jensen, Dr. Langer and Johnathan Fleming, Managing Partner of Oxford Bioscience Partners and Senior Lecturer in the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship at the MIT Sloan School of Management.
Many diseases and disorders result from dysfunction at the cellular level; however, studying them has proven challenging as it is currently difficult to understand and manipulate cells’ internal biological mechanisms. SQZ Biotech’s CellSqueeze platform is a microfluidic chip that enables the delivery of virtually any material into almost any cell type, including primary human-derived cells, in order to address challenges with traditional intracellular delivery technologies. SQZ Biotech’s chips contain 75 parallel fluidic channels, each of which has at least one region where the channel diameter is smaller than the diameter of a cell. Cells flowing through these channels experience a “squeeze” as they travel through the narrow point. The mechanical stress opens temporary holes in the cell membrane, exposing the cytoplasm, which allows the cell to take up molecules in the surrounding environment. Cells repair themselves shortly thereafter. CellSqueeze technology has been published in several peer-reviewed publications, including the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, for its demonstrated potential in applications ranging from single molecule imaging to cell reprogramming. Patent applications describing the technology have been filed in over 20 countries.
“Current methods of intracellular delivery do not work well for many cell types and materials. For example, chemical and viral delivery methods can be efficient but are often highly toxic or limited to nucleic acid cargo. Electroporation might work for a larger variety of cells but performs poorly for nanoparticles and uncharged proteins. Moreover it has significant toxicity effects,” said Armon Sharei, Ph.D., chairman of SQZ Biotech’s board of directors and co-inventor of CellSqueeze technology. “With CellSqueeze, we can eliminate these challenges while improving delivery of the target material into cells with demonstrated 10 to 100 times higher efficiency than competing technologies.”
About SQZ Biotech
SQZ Biotech is commercializing the CellSqueeze platform, which enables virtually any material to enter almost any cell of interest with a gentle squeeze. Through internal research programs and external partnerships, we are leading a revolution in scientists’ approach to disease research and clinical therapies. Our development programs are focused on next-generation drug discovery and target validation technologies that capitalize on our capabilities to enable more effective identification/development of therapeutic candidates, as well as adoptive cell therapies based on ex vivo engineering of patient-derived cells. More information is available at www.sqzbiotech.com.