Synthego says the $110 million in Series C financing it raised this week will enable it to proceed with ambitious expansion plans that include extending its full stack genome engineering platform, growing its CRISPRevolution and Engineered Cells product lines, and increasing its global footprint in Europe and Asia.
Through these and other initiatives, the provider of genome engineering products and services expects to grow its workforce beyond the current 130 staffers.
“We’ve been doubling every year, and we expect to continue to double every year,” Synthego COO Ted Tisch told GEN this week. “We are very particular about who we hire in terms of what they bring to the company, in terms of talent and culture. We want to make sure that people find us a great place to work, that the accomplishments they do, they do well, so we want to double every year. We think that’s possible, and we’ve built the foundations for that.”
Those foundations include Synthego’s Engineered Cells portfolio. Launched in June, the portfolio consists of Knockout Clone and Pool products designed to enable single-click online ordering of any human cell line with a guaranteed CRISPR knockout—eliminating the barrier of learning new methods and optimizing protocols—and Advanced Cells designed to let researchers apply the company’s CRISPR expertise to design and execute complex cell modification projects.
In August, Synthego launched its CRISPRevolution, designed to accelerate CRISPR/Cas9 and Cpf1 genome engineering research by featuring synthetic guide RNA products. According to the company, CRISPRevolution is the first product line to offer economical access to fully synthetic RNA for high fidelity editing and increased precision in genome editing.
“This funding is really about scaling these to meet nation-scale demand. We’ve had so much inbound demand on the guides, and on the engineered cells,” Tisch said. “We want to get ahead of that, so the funding helps with that. A lot of it is about robustification around automation. As we spread out the market, there are certain things that we want to do that are semi-automated or manual. We’ll make sure that those get all the automation scale.”
CRISPRevolution is an outgrowth of Synthego’s “full stack” genome engineering platform, created to facilitate the design, modeling, execution, and analysis of CRISPR projects by applying automation, bioinformatics, and machine learning.
“Full stack” derives from the engineering term “full stack developer,” someone capable of carrying out all the work of databases, servers, systems engineering, and clients.
Another foundation of Synthego, he said, is the company’s advisory board, which includes former GlaxoSmithKline CEO Sir Andrew Witty, and CRISPR-Cas9 pioneer Jennifer Doudna, PhD, of University of California, Berkeley. Sir Andrew has advised Synthego on how the drug development process of biopharma giants can integrate genome engineering, while Dr. Doudna has helped with technology assessment and helping the company deliver on increasing accessibility to CRISPR for researchers and customers.
In announcing the financing Tuesday, Synthego said it had added to its advisory board Matthew Porteus, M.D., Ph.D., a scientific co-founder of CRISPR Therapeutics. He heads CRISPR research at Stanford Medicine as Kraus Lacob Faculty Scholar in Pediatric Translational Medicine and an associate professor of pediatrics in stem cell transplantation. His lab specializes in developing new genome editing tools for therapeutic applications.
Dr. Porteus brings to Synthego not only his expertise in CRISPR, but an interest in applying the genome editing technology toward therapeutic development, since his lab working to launch Stanford’s first clinical trial using CRISPR. Last year, he won a $5.2 million grant from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine for work toward a planned clinical trial of a potential treatment designed to treat sickle cell disease by using the gene editing technology to repair a mutation.
“Dr. Porteus is not only a researcher, but he’s also a clinician. And finding people like that is very important because we think one of the longer goals for our company is to reduce the cost of gene therapy,” Tisch said.
Lowering R&D Costs
Synthego has positioned its products and services in part as helping drug developer customers lower their costs of cell and gene therapy R&D.
“When you think of startups you think of big goals. We think about vaccines,” Tisch said. “We think if you can get the cost of sickle cell anemia treatment from half million dollars or a couple of hundred thousand dollars down to $1,000 or even lower to a vaccine, then you can start treating not only the 100,000 patients in the U.S., but you can start thinking about around the world, where there are millions of patients, especially with monogenic diseases like sickle cell anemia, which is one base substitution that can be treated.
“You will transform humankind if you can do that,” Tisch added. “You will be curing these people, and they will not be a burden on the healthcare system.”
Founders Fund led the financing, with participation from existing investors 8VC and Menlo Ventures. The financing brings to $160 million the total capital raised by Synthego.
What, if any, plans does Synthego have to go public?
“I’m not sure what that looks like right now. That is one of the many possibilities. It’s a little early to say,” Tisch said. “I want to spend this $110 million, and build up the bank a little bit. Ask us that question in a few months, or six to 12 months, when we’re thinking about whether we’ll do a [Series] D.”