Inscripta president and CEO Sri Kosaraju

Inscripta has completed a $150 million Series E financing that it says will fuel future tool and technology development, and broader distribution of its products—starting with its Onyx™ CRISPR-based genome editing platform, which the company has shipped to its first customer.

GeneMill, a synthetic biology foundry at the University of Liverpool, received its Onyx platform three weeks ago, building on a relationship with Inscripta that began after a presentation in August 2019 at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU), when the foundry first heard about the Onynx platform.

“We’re really looking at this as a huge milestone for the company, but also a really interesting moment now to allow us to get the Onyx platform into the hands of more and more customers,” Inscripta president and CEO Sri Kosaraju told GEN Edge.

According to Inscripta, Onyx is the world’s first fully-automated benchtop instrument for scalable digital genome-scale engineering. Onyx is designed to enable scientists to create libraries of millions of precisely-engineered single cells in one experiment through a fully-automated workflow that enables massively parallel, trackable editing of single cells at an unprecedented scale.

“We look forward to continuing our close collaboration with the Inscripta team, working together to explore a wide range of genome discovery and forward-engineering research projects with our customers and collaborators from around the world,” stated James Johnson, PhD, GeneMill facility manager at the University of Liverpool.

Johnson was part of a team of investigators who won £287,000 ($400,000) last year toward an Onyx instrument funded through the U.K. Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council’s ALERT 19 competition.

“Extraordinarily powerful platform”

“Inscripta’s Onyx is an extraordinarily powerful platform that will enable high-throughput genome editing and analysis. It will revolutionize our abilities in synthetic biology,” added the project’s principal investigator, University of Liverpool professor Douglas Kell, DPhil.

Onyx is designed to enable scientists to create libraries of millions of precisely-engineered single cells in one experiment through a fully automated workflow that enables massively parallel, trackable editing of single cells at an unprecedented scale. [Inscripta]
“The result of this program,” Kell told the BBSRC, “will be huge amounts of new knowledge of which genes—which will often be unexpected ones—are involved in a bioprocess of interest. It will allow us to control and optimize cellular enzyme and small molecule production in a truly rational manner.”

Another customer disclosed by Inscripta, Sestina Bio, says it applies Onyx towards all four stages of cellular engineering: Designing genome-scale libraries via InscriptaDesign software; Building millions of precisely edited cells via Onyx using its genome engineering kits with consumables; Testing via genotyping assays; and Learning the impact of individual edits through the InscriptaResolver software. “The Onyx platform really impacts each of those significantly,” said Ted Tarasow, Sestina’s CTO/founder.

Inscripta said Onyx is intended to equip scientists in genome discovery, healthcare, bio-industrial materials development and manufacturing, and sustainability with the ability to design, engineer, evaluate, and track results of genome engineering experiments within their own labs. Onyx sells for a list price of $347,000.

Onyx was first unveiled at the 2019 Global Synthetic Biology Summit (SynBioBeta) by Inscripta’s then-CEO Kevin Ness, PhD. Ness is a serial entrepreneur who earlier co-founded and helped build two leading developers of analysis tools—QuantaLife, developer of the Droplet Digital™ PCR system acquired in 2011 by Bio-Rad Laboratories for $162 million cash plus undisclosed milestone payments; and 10x Genomics, a developer of single-cell and single molecule analysis systems—before joining the year-old Inscripta as CEO in 2016, when the company went by its original name of Muse Bio.

Muse was established in 2015 by Ryan Gill, PhD, of University of Colorado-Boulder and two of his students, Andrew Garst, PhD, now Chief Innovation Officer of Infinome Biosciences; and Tanya Lipscomb, PhD, now president and chief technology officer of Boulder-based Artisan Biotechnologies.

Last month, Ness was named an advisor to OMX Ventures, after serving as a major investor in the Chicago life sciences venture capital firm’s first fund, the $150 million OMX Ventures Fund I.

Ness remains an advisor to Inscripta: “I am proud of our team and their development of the innovative Onyx digital genome engineering platform,” he stated when Kosaraju was named his successor. “I welcome Sri to the team as we ramp up commercial efforts and I remain a strong supporter of this amazing company.”

Transformative technology

CEO Kosaraju joined Inscripta at the invitation of board chairman John Stuelpnagel, who predicted the company can enjoy the same dominance in genome editing that has been seen in next-generation sequencing: “In the same manner that Illumina revolutionized DNA sequencing over the last 10 years, we are excited for the automated, multiplexed, industrial-scale Onyx platform to revolutionize gene editing and genome engineering.”

“What brought me here was the incredible, transformative technology, the organization that’s been built, and what I think our opportunity could be,” Kosaraju said.

Kosaraju previously led medical device developer Penumbra. During his five-year tenure with the company, in which he rose from CFO to President, Penumbra more than quadrupled its revenues from $125 million to $547 million.

Can Inscripta deliver similar growth? Kosaraju won’t disclose the company’s expectations over that period but says: “I think the opportunity for what we’re doing at Inscripta is larger than anything I’ve been around.”

“The financing here, which is coinciding with the launch of our first product, is really around our future, beyond that first product and first platform,” Kosaraju added. “As the opportunities become more visible and as they develop where we think we can bring our technology to other areas, that’s where these proceeds will be extremely helpful to allow us to pursue them. So, it’s really around building out the future of our company.”

That future, Kosaraju added, will include developing a platform capable of supporting mammalian cells; the current Onyx platform is focused on microbes, targeting E. coli and yeast.

“It’s very early. We have a separate team working on it,” Kosaraju said of the mammalian platform. “Mammalian cells pose much different challenges than microbial organisms. It is a big project, and I’m excited about it we’re investing aggressively in it.

The mammalian platform did not necessitate that Inscripta pursue the Series E financing, he added.

“The opportunity set is developing, and as we’re gaining more visibility on it and our underlying foundational technology is strengthening, this is a proactive move and opportunistic move to position ourselves against it,” Kosaraju said. “Synbio and the bioeconomy are large. There’s a lot of people going at it. We believe that to be capitalized, but importantly with the right long-term investors, can really add value and pay dividends, as we look to grow the business.”

Long-term vision

The series E financing was co-led by Fidelity Management & Research Company and funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price Associates, both long-term focused institutional investors

“I have relationships with a lot of these investors, and they are excited about where we are, and they see the long-term vision of what we can do and we’re excited to have them on board,” Kosaraju said.

“More than having the technology and the team, having the structure and the support of investors who see things the same way and are supporting us is just as critical,” he asserted. “I think it was important for us to have this financing, to be opportunistic, to de-risk the future funding of the company, but also instill like-minded, long-term investors who can be very, very valuable as we build this business.”

In addition to Fidelity and T. Rowe Price, participating investors in the Series E included new investors D1 Capital Partners and Durable Capital Partners—as well as investors from previous rounds such as Foresite Capital, Counterpoint Global (Morgan Stanley), and JS Capital.

The Series E brings Inscripta’s total financing to $450 million—including $175 in Series D financing, starting with an initial $125 million that the company announced in December 2019. At the time, Ness shared expansion plans with GEN Edge that included commercializing Onyx and developing a mammalian platform.

A few months later, however, the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on the world, slowing down Inscripta’s development and commercial efforts that have only lately picked up steam.

“Many other companies were impacted in their development efforts and commercial launch efforts. But I think we’re ready now, and we’re prepared,” Kosaraju said. “The exciting thing about a young company like us, we can be nimble and we can build and grow. We don’t have a lot of existing infrastructure. We’re building around the current environment, and to be able to operate during COVID. So, we’re excited and we’re confident we can begin the customer journey.”

Headquartered in Boulder, CO, Inscripta also has offices in San Diego, where its manufacturing facility is located; as well as in Pleasanton, CA, and Copenhagen, Denmark. Inscripta plans to keep those operations in place and grow its workforce, which now stands at more than 140 people.

“We’re hiring pretty aggressively,” Kosaraju said. “As people begin to learn about Inscripta, I think we’re going to attract a lot of very talented folks to help.”

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