US and French Biotech Partnership to Develop Off-the-Shelf Cell Therapies

The French biotech Erytech will license its red blood cell drug encapsulation technology to the US cell therapy company SQZ Biotechnologies for up to €50M.  

The partners plan to develop off-the-shelf cell therapies combining Erytech’s red blood cell drug encapsulation with SQZ Biotechnologies’ technology, which engineers immune cells to attack or protect specific disease targets. For the first joint treatment, Erytech will receive up to €50M ($57M) in upfront and milestone payments. The company will receive commercial milestone payments of up to €44M ($50M) for each other treatment that SQZ develops based on the technology.

Erytech is developing a technology to encapsulate drugs inside engineered red blood cells. The encapsulated drugs cause fewer side effects than regular doses because the drugs are locked inside the cell until delivered to disease sites such as tumors. SQZ, meanwhile, mechanically squeezes the membranes of immune cells. This allows the company to insert molecules to be expressed on the cell’s surface, such as tumor antigens, priming the immune system to action. 

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The two partners have not specified which diseases they aim to target with the combined technologies.

Although its technology hit a bump in a failed phase IIb trial for acute myeloid leukemia 18 months ago, Erytech is still making strides towards taking its technology to market. The company is running a phase III trial for the treatment of pancreatic cancer, and a phase II trial in breast cancer.

SQZ’s most advanced cell therapy is designed to stimulate the immune system against head and neck cancer, and is at the preclinical stage. SQZ also has eyes on engineering immune cells to restrain the immune system in type 1 diabetes.


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