Synthego raises $110 million to make gene editing technologies more accessible

Paul Dabrowski, the chief executive officer of Synthego, which provides genetically engineered cells to scientists and researchers, worries about a future where access to the genetic technologies that will reshape the world are only available to the few who can afford them. To hear him tell it, that’s why Dabrowski began working on Synthego in […]

Paul Dabrowski, the chief executive officer of Synthego, which provides genetically engineered cells to scientists and researchers, worries about a future where access to the genetic technologies that will reshape the world are only available to the few who can afford them.

To hear him tell it, that’s why Dabrowski began working on Synthego in the first place — to democratize access to the new technologies that will give scientists, researchers, and consumers new ways to rewrite the code that has defined human existence.

“People talk about access to the tools, but the question is access to the therapies,” Dabrowski said. “We’re talking about the basis of what does it mean to be human not right now, but in the next 100 years.”

Now, the company has a fresh $110 million in cash from new investors at Founders Fund and the company’s previous backers — 8VC and Menlo Ventures — to try and drive costs down.

“This new funding allows us to expand our reach and build out of our full stack platform capabilities at a perfect time,” said Dabrowski, co-founder and CEO, Synthego, in a statement. “Biological medicines are on the cusp of a revolution with the coming curative cell and gene therapies, and we are proud to support this industry.”

While Dabrowski said the financing will be used for further research and development — and bringing new services to market — in the near term the funding will be used to expand two main areas of interest for the company. One is the creation of CRISPR kits that can create different genetic lines based on the requests from researchers and scientists, and the other is creating materials that are “clinical-grade”, which means that they can be used in clinical trials on animal (and potentially human) subjects.

“In general the demand for these products is quite high. Building capacity and building out the informatics models for the predictability on the CRISPR research side. 

In all, the Redwood City, Calif.-based company has raised $166 million in funding to develop its technology that makes research and development using the gene editing tool known as CRISPR more economical and faster for researchers. Synthego claims that  by offering researchers one-click access to engineered cells with guaranteed edits in their desired target, the company can slash the time it takes to conduct experiments by months, enabling predictable and rapid outcomes in cell and gene therapy research and development. 

As we’d written previously, Synthego launched its first CRISPR offerings to the market earlier this year.

There are two basic functions that people use CRISPR for, said Dabrowski. The first is to remove a gene or function and the second is adding a function to genetic material.

Both of those processes involve three (very complicated) steps. First scientists have to identify the gene that they want to target and then understand what genetic material within that gene they want to target for removal. Then a research team would need to identify and procure the reagents and components they need to edit a gene. Finally, the team would need to figure out whether the edit was made successfully and watch for results when the edited genetic material is cultivated.

Synthego’s first set of products were designed to simplify the process for identifying and designing genetic material for experimentation. This next set of tools are supposed to help scientists by providing them with the material they want to observe or experiment with.

“Our vision is a future where cell and gene therapies are ultimately as accessible as vaccines, so that everyone can benefit from next-generation cures,” said Dabrowski in a statement. “Synthego will continue to innovate to help researchers redefine the boundaries of transformative medicines.”

Synthego raises $110 million to make gene editing technologies more accessible

Paul Dabrowski, the chief executive officer of Synthego, which provides genetically engineered cells to scientists and researchers, worries about a future where access to the genetic technologies that will reshape the world are only available to the few who can afford them. To hear him tell it, that’s why Dabrowski began working on Synthego in […]

Paul Dabrowski, the chief executive officer of Synthego, which provides genetically engineered cells to scientists and researchers, worries about a future where access to the genetic technologies that will reshape the world are only available to the few who can afford them.

To hear him tell it, that’s why Dabrowski began working on Synthego in the first place — to democratize access to the new technologies that will give scientists, researchers, and consumers new ways to rewrite the code that has defined human existence.

“People talk about access to the tools, but the question is access to the therapies,” Dabrowski said. “We’re talking about the basis of what does it mean to be human not right now, but in the next 100 years.”

Now, the company has a fresh $110 million in cash from new investors at Founders Fund and the company’s previous backers — 8VC and Menlo Ventures — to try and drive costs down.

“This new funding allows us to expand our reach and build out of our full stack platform capabilities at a perfect time,” said Dabrowski, co-founder and CEO, Synthego, in a statement. “Biological medicines are on the cusp of a revolution with the coming curative cell and gene therapies, and we are proud to support this industry.”

While Dabrowski said the financing will be used for further research and development — and bringing new services to market — in the near term the funding will be used to expand two main areas of interest for the company. One is the creation of CRISPR kits that can create different genetic lines based on the requests from researchers and scientists, and the other is creating materials that are “clinical-grade”, which means that they can be used in clinical trials on animal (and potentially human) subjects.

“In general the demand for these products is quite high. Building capacity and building out the informatics models for the predictability on the CRISPR research side. 

In all, the Redwood City, Calif.-based company has raised $166 million in funding to develop its technology that makes research and development using the gene editing tool known as CRISPR more economical and faster for researchers. Synthego claims that  by offering researchers one-click access to engineered cells with guaranteed edits in their desired target, the company can slash the time it takes to conduct experiments by months, enabling predictable and rapid outcomes in cell and gene therapy research and development. 

As we’d written previously, Synthego launched its first CRISPR offerings to the market earlier this year.

There are two basic functions that people use CRISPR for, said Dabrowski. The first is to remove a gene or function and the second is adding a function to genetic material.

Both of those processes involve three (very complicated) steps. First scientists have to identify the gene that they want to target and then understand what genetic material within that gene they want to target for removal. Then a research team would need to identify and procure the reagents and components they need to edit a gene. Finally, the team would need to figure out whether the edit was made successfully and watch for results when the edited genetic material is cultivated.

Synthego’s first set of products were designed to simplify the process for identifying and designing genetic material for experimentation. This next set of tools are supposed to help scientists by providing them with the material they want to observe or experiment with.

“Our vision is a future where cell and gene therapies are ultimately as accessible as vaccines, so that everyone can benefit from next-generation cures,” said Dabrowski in a statement. “Synthego will continue to innovate to help researchers redefine the boundaries of transformative medicines.”

uBiome is jumping into therapeutics with a healthy $83 million in Series C financing

23andMe, IBM and now uBiome is the next tech company to jump into the lucrative multi-billion dollar drug discovery market. The company started out with a consumer gut health test to check whether your intestines carry the right kind of bacteria for healthy digestion but has since expanded to include over 250,000 samples for everything […]

23andMe, IBM and now uBiome is the next tech company to jump into the lucrative multi-billion dollar drug discovery market.

The company started out with a consumer gut health test to check whether your intestines carry the right kind of bacteria for healthy digestion but has since expanded to include over 250,000 samples for everything from the microbes on your skin to vaginal health — the largest data set in the world for these types of samples, according to the company.

Founder Jessica Richman now says there’s a wider opportunity to use this data to create value in therapeutics.

To support its new drug discovery efforts, the San Francisco-based startup will be moving its therapeutics unit into new Cambridge, Massachusetts headquarters and appointing former Novartis CEO Joseph Jimenez to the board of directors as well.

The company has a healthy pile of cash to help build out that new HQ, too, with a fresh $83 million Series C, lead by OS Fund and in participation with 8VC, Y Combinator, Dentsu Ventures and others.

The drug discovery market is slated to be worth nearly $86 billion by 2022, according to BCC Research numbers. New technologies — those that solve logistics issues and shorten the time between research and getting a drug to market in particular — are driving the growth and that’s where uBiome thinks it can get into the game.

“This financing allows us to expand our product portfolio, increase our focus on patent assets and further raise our clinical profile, especially as we begin to focus on commercialization of drug discovery and development of our patent assets,” Richman said.

Though its unclear at this time which drug maker the company might partner up with, Richman did say there would be plenty to announce later on that front.

So far, the company has published over 30 peer-reviewed papers on microbiome research, has entered into research partnerships with the likes of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and leading research institutions such as Harvard, MIT and Stanford and has previously raised $22 million in funding. The additional VC cash puts the total amount raised to $105 million to date.

As biological manufacturing moves to the mainstream, Synvitrobio rebrands and raises cash

The pace at which the scientific breakthroughs working to bend the machinery of life to the whims of manufacturing have transformed into real businesses has intensified competition in the biomanufacturing market. That’s just one reason why Synvitrobio is rebranding as it takes on $2.6 million in new financing to pursue opportunities in biopharmaceutical and biochemical manufacturing. […]

The pace at which the scientific breakthroughs working to bend the machinery of life to the whims of manufacturing have transformed into real businesses has intensified competition in the biomanufacturing market.

That’s just one reason why Synvitrobio is rebranding as it takes on $2.6 million in new financing to pursue opportunities in biopharmaceutical and biochemical manufacturing. Under its new name, Tierra Biosciences, the company hopes to emphasize its focus on agricultural and biochemical products.

The company is one of several looking to commercialize the field of “cell-free” manufacturing — where biological engineers strip down the cellular building blocks of life to their most basic components to create processes that ideally can be more easily manipulated to produce different kinds of chemicals.

There’s a standard way to create these cell free processes (described quite nicely in The Economist).

Grab a few quarts of culture with some kind of bacteria, plant or animal cells in it. Then use pressure to force the cells through a valve to break up their membranes and DNA . Give the goo a nice warm environment heated to roughly the average temperature of a human body for about an hour. That activates enzymes that will eat the existing DNA.

Put all of it in a centrifuge to separate out the ribosomes (which are the important bits). Take those ribosomes and give them a mixture of sugars, amino acids, adenosine triphosphate (the molecular compound that breaks down to provide energy for all biological functions), and new DNA with a different set of instructions on what to make and voila! Micro-factories in a test tube.

Along with co-founders Richard Murray, of the California Institute of Technology, and George Church, one of the living legends of modern genetics, chief executive officer Zachary Sun designed Tierra to be an engine for new biochemical discovery.

“Everything floats in the cytoplasm… We keep that internal stuff and that allows us to run reactions where a cell wall isn’t necessary. I want to reduce the complex system down to its component parts,” says Sun. “We look at this as a data collection problem. We want to use cell free to tell you what to put either in a cell or in cell free systems… We can collect more data faster using our cell free system.”

The startup is already working with the Department of Energy research institution at Oak Ridge National Laboratory to develop processes to create vanillin (vanilla extract) and mevalonate (turpentine) from biomass.

It’s an approach that is already showing the potential for investment returns in life sciences and pharmaceuticals. For inspiration, Tierra can look to the South San Francisco-based Sutro Biopharma.

That company has signed a drug discovery agreement with Merck to develop new immune-modulating therapies (that bring the immune system into check) for cancer and auto-immune disorders, in a deal worth up to $1.6 billion if the company hits certain milestones — in addition to a $60 million upfront payment. Sutro raised over $85 million in new funding in July (from investors including Merck) and just filed to go public on the Nasdaq.

According to Sun, the newly-named Tierra has its own partnerships with global 2000 companies in the works. “We’re looking to scale those commitments. We see the application space as being this natural products environment,” he says.

There’re multiple avenues to pursue with the technology widely applicable to everything from pesticides to pharmaceuticals, flavorings, and even energy.

Cyclotron Road team photos. 2016. Zachary Sun

“Synthetic biology at its core is about applying engineering best practices to speed up the ‘design-build-test’ cycles in the reprogramming of existing or construction of new biological systems. By component-izing and modularizing the cell they can radically increase the speed of those cycles,” says Seth Bannon, a co-founder of the venture capital firm Fifty Years, which invests in startups commercializing “frontier” science. 

For the investors, entrepreneurs and reporters who witnessed the birth of the cleantech bubble a decade ago and then tracked its implosion in subsequent years, the excitement this kind of technology elicits is another of history’s rhymes.

Technologies like Tierra’s aren’t new. San Diego-based Genomatica has been working on biological manufacturing for the past 18 years. The company is now exploring a cell-free system to grow chemicals that are used in the manufacture of materials like Lycra. Since 2008, Medford, Mass.-based GreenLight Biosciences has been working to bring its own biologically-based zero-calorie sugar substitute to market.

What may be different now is the maturity of the technologies that are being commercialized and the perspective of the startups coming to market — who have the benefit of avoiding the missteps made by an earlier generation.

Investors led by Social Capital with participation from Fifty Years, KdT Ventures and angel investors seem to see a difference in these companies. And large research institutions are also marshaling resources to support the vision laid out by Sun, Murray and Church. DARPA, the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Energy, Cyclotron Road and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the National Science Foundation, and the Gates Foundation have all backed the company as well.

“So many therapeutic molecules come from nature. As the DNA of plants, animals, and microbes is read in exponentially increasing volume, we expect to find useful and game-changing chemistry encoded by it. Tierra’s platform will allow us to look for molecules which might otherwise be buried in the complexity of cells’ metabolism,” says Louis Metzger, Chief Scientific Officer of Tierra, who comes from a background of drug discovery.

23andMe might soon offer a more comprehensive $749 DNA service

23andMe is testing a $749 “premium” service for deeper health insights, according to several customers who saw a test page for the new product and posted about it on Reddit. First spotted by CNBC, the company served up a test web page to several customers telling them about a service that would allow them to […]

23andMe is testing a $749 “premium” service for deeper health insights, according to several customers who saw a test page for the new product and posted about it on Reddit.

First spotted by CNBC, the company served up a test web page to several customers telling them about a service that would allow them to look at their “whole genome data.” However, when they clicked on the link provided, nothing happened. A few Redditors even posited the notification may have been a mistake as the link led nowhere.

But, according to the company, there’s no error here. 23andMe later confirmed to TechCrunch it sent out a test page to some customers to “gauge interest” in such a product. However, there’s “nothing planned” at this time for such a service, according to a 23andMe spokesperson.

The consumer DNA company charges $299 for its highest package right now, and includes a breakdown of both health and ancestry using all 23 of your chromosomes (hence the name). The cost to sequence your whole genome is currently just under $1,000 so it’s not clear if 23andMe would lower the price to sequence all of a customer’s DNA or if they would offer a comprehensive analysis of a good chunk of your genome.

One other possibility is that the company was exploring diving back into next-generation sequencing, which it abandoned in 2016. Next-generation sequencing was regarded as too complex at the time and the company wanted to focus on a technique that would expedite research efforts as it was cozying up to the drug research market.

However, 23andMe tells TechCrunch that’s not the case, and that it has no plans to get back into next-generation sequencing, instead sticking to genotyping, which offers much richer data on specific traits consumers may be interested in, such as if they’re prone to get fatter than average or if they’re a carrier for Alzheimer’s disease.

We don’t know if 23andMe will produce this particular product, but we do know the company is thinking up other streams of revenue in the future and, according to the company, working on something more comprehensive than genotyping. We’ll be sure to let you know if and when they can tell us more about what they’re spinning up.

George Church’s genetics on the blockchain startup just raised $4.3 million from Khosla

Nebula Genomics, the startup that wants to put your whole genome on the blockchain, has announced the raise of $4.3 million in Series A from Khosla Ventures and other leading tech VC’s such as Arch Venture Partners, Fenbushi Capital, Mayfield, F-Prime Capital Partners, Great Point Ventures, Windham Venture Partners, Hemi Ventures, Mirae Asset, Hikma Ventures and […]

Nebula Genomics, the startup that wants to put your whole genome on the blockchain, has announced the raise of $4.3 million in Series A from Khosla Ventures and other leading tech VC’s such as Arch Venture Partners, Fenbushi Capital, Mayfield, F-Prime Capital Partners, Great Point Ventures, Windham Venture Partners, Hemi Ventures, Mirae Asset, Hikma Ventures and Heartbeat Labs.

Nebula has also has forged a partnership with genome sequencing company Veritas Genetics.

Veritas was one of the first companies to sequence the entire human genome for less than $1,000 in 2015, later adding all that info to the touch of a button on your smartphone. Both Nebula and Veritas were cofounded by MIT professor and “godfather” of the Human Genome Project, George Church.

The partnership between the two companies will allow the Nebula marketplace, or the place where those consenting to share their genetic data can earn Nebula’s cryptocurrency called “Nebula tokens” to build upon Veritas open-source software platform Arvados, which can process and share large amounts of genetic information and other big data. According to the company, this crossover offers privacy and security for the physical storage and management of various data sets according to local rules and regulations.

“As our own database grows to many petabytes, together with the Nebula team we are taking the lead in our industry to protect the privacy of consumers while enabling them to participate in research and benefit from the blockchain-based marketplace Nebula is building,” Veritas CEO Mirza Cifric said in a statement.

The partnership will work with various academic institutions and industry researchers to provide genomic data from individual consumers looking to cash in by sharing their own data, rather than by freely giving it as they might through another genomics company like 23andMe .

“Compared to centralized databases, Nebula’s decentralized and federated architecture will help address privacy concerns and incentivize data sharing,” added Nebula Genomics co-founder Dennis Grishin. “Our goal is to create a data flow that will accelerate medical research and catalyze a transformation of health care.”

HP is ‘printing’ drugs for the CDC to speed up antibiotic testing

At least 2 million people in the U.S. become infected with so-called “super bugs” and at least 23,000 people die as a direct result of these infections each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Now, HP’s Biohacker technology is working with the CDC on a pilot program to “print” and test antibiotics […]

At least 2 million people in the U.S. become infected with so-called “super bugs” and at least 23,000 people die as a direct result of these infections each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Now, HP’s Biohacker technology is working with the CDC on a pilot program to “print” and test antibiotics in an effort to catch these antimicrobial resistant strains from spreading faster.

The HP D300e Digital Dispenser BioPrinter technology works by using the same set up as a regular ink printer but instead dispenses any combination of drugs in volumes from picoliters to microliters to be used for research purposes.

Part of the reason these bugs spread so rapidly often comes down to mis-use of antibiotics, leading the bacteria to develop a resistance to the drugs available. The CDC hopes to give hospital providers access to the technology nationwide to cut down on the problem.

“Once a drug is approved for use, the countdown begins until resistance emerges,” Jean Patel, PH.D. D (ABMM), Science Team Lead, Antibiotic Resistance Coordination and Strategy Unit at CDC said in a statement. “To save lives and protect people, it is vital to make technology accessible to hospital labs nationwide. We hope this pilot will help ensure our newest drugs last longer and put gold-standard lab results in healthcare providers’ hands faster.”

The 3D bioprinting sector has been experiencing rapid growth over the last few years and will continue on pace through the next decade, mainly due to R&D, according to market researchers. Innovation in the space includes printing of organs, human tissue and drug research and development.

Further, this potentially valuable antibiotic resistance research could help patient care teams stem a grim future where we experience a regression in health and life spans due to no longer having the ability to treat currently curable diseases.

The HP BioPrinter is currently used by labs and pharmaceutical companies such as Gilead, which tests for drugs used against the Ebola virus. It is also being used in various CRISPR applications. The CDC will use these printers in four regional areas spread throughout the U.S. within the Antibiotic Resistance (AR) Lab Network to develop antimicrobial susceptibility test methods for new drugs, according to HP.