Ginkgo Bioworks said today it has raised $290 million in Series E financing, with plans to use the capital toward expanding synthetic biology applications for its cell programming platform.
The $290 million financing brings Ginkgo’s total capital raised to $719 million. Funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price Associates joined all existing investors in the latest round, the first since December 2017 when Ginkgo raised $275 million in Series D financing to complete its third “foundry” or production facility. The company opened its fourth foundry last year, and is now completing its fifth.
“Today’s fundraise will allow us to expand our technology and continue our drive to bring biology into every physical goods industry—materials, clothing, electronics, food, pharmaceuticals, and more. They are all biotech industries but just don’t know it yet,” Jason Kelly, Ginkgo’s CEO and co-founder, said in a statement.
Because cells run on digital code in the form of DNA, Kelly said, they can be programmed like computers: “We believe Ginkgo has the best compiler and debugger for writing genetic code and we use it program cells for customers in a range of industries.”
Ginkgo’s foundries—essentially genetically modified organism factories—have enabled the company to design and test engineered microbes rapidly. For example, the company uses a $35-million collection of liquid handling robots that enables the testing of many versions of custom organisms at once, Jeff Lou, head of automation at Ginkgo, explained to GEN earlier this year.
Boston-based Ginkgo has extended its synthetic biology technology platform to partners specializing in consumer goods, such as fragrance, cosmetic, nutrition, and food companies—as well as drug developers.
In June, Ginkgo invested $80 million equity in Synlogic and entered into a long-term strategic platform collaboration designed to accelerate expansion and development of Synlogic’s pipeline of Synthetic Biotic™ medicines using Ginkgo’s cell programming platform. In turn, Synlogic paid Ginkgo $30 million for synthetic biology services to be provided over an initial five-year period that can be extended.
The collaboration built upon a partnership the two companies launched in December 2017 aimed at treating neurological and liver disorders through Synthetic Biotic medicine—“living” medicines in which engineered probiotics are designed to perform critical metabolic conversions in the gut that can replace physiological activity missing or damaged in patients.
“Turbocharging” the discovery process
“What our foundry automation allows us to do is very rapidly screen many thousands of different strains, testing different enzymes to look for variants that are going to have the highest activity, for example,” Kelly told GEN in January 2018. “Using the same ‘chassis’ strain—a common probiotic strain that people have taken to promote gut health for decades—we can optimize the function of an engineered pathway that is going to have an effect on the patient’s metabolism.
“In this way, we not only can optimize existing strains that Synlogic has in its pipeline, but more importantly, it also lets us rapidly generate strains with pathways targeting other diseases, turbocharging the discovery process for living medicines,” Kelly explained. “Ginkgo’s technology is useful across industries, and we see drug discovery and development, especially living medicines, as a natural fit for organism design. We have a very long-term view of where these technologies will take us, and we believe living medicines will become an important new modality for human therapeutics.”
Ginkgo also maintains another drug development collaboration with Roche, after acquiring the genome mining platform of Warp Drive Bio, acquired last year by Revolution Medicines. As a result, Ginkgo took over Warp Drive Bio’s up-to-$160 million partnership with Roche to develop antibiotics.
The Warp Drive Bio platform applies high-resolution genomic sequencing to identify, analyze, and evaluate more than 100 classes of potential antibiotics to develop novel medicines. The platform includes a genomic database containing more than 135,000 bacterial strains with the potential to encode more than four million biosynthetic gene clusters for use in developing novel antibiotics.
Ginkgo has also teamed up with Cronos Group to improve the economics and practicality of extracting cultured cannabinoids for medicinal uses, through an up-to-$122 million partnership initiated in September 2018.
Beyond developing treatments, Ginkgo has launched two spinouts: The company joined Bayer in March 2018 to establish Joyn Bio, a joint venture formed to engineer microbes for agricultural applications, starting with enhancing sustainability through nitrogen fixation. In February, Ginkgo spun out Motif Ingredients to discover and develop alternative protein ingredients via fermentation rather than animal agriculture. The company was rebranded MotifFoodWorks in August after raising $27.5 million in funding led by General Atlantic, with participation from CPT Capital.
Broadening access for startups
Ginkgo is also seeking to broaden access to its platform through new partnerships launched in recent days with seed accelerator Y Combinator and Petri, a 12-month accelerator for early-stage entrepreneurs focused on integrating biology with engineering. Petri accounted its launch on September 13, with co-founding advisors that include one of Ginkgo’s five co-founders, Reshma Shetty, PhD.
For Y Accelerator companies engaged in synthetic biology projects, Ginkgo is offering to program cells for no-money-down, but instead, receive equity in the companies tied to achieving technical milestones.
“It’s essentially a risk-free deal for the companies. Ginkgo will effectively be making a big in-kind R&D investment in these companies,” Y Combinator partner Jason Friedman posted Monday on the seed accelerator’s blog. “In the past, companies like this had to make major investments upfront in organism engineering before they could manufacture anything. With this deal from Ginkgo, the next generation of synthetic biology companies will have the option to start by leveraging Ginkgo rather than building lab infrastructure in-house.”
Ginkgo was the first biotech company funded by Y Combinator in 2014. Partnerships with Y Combinator companies will hinge on Ginkgo vetting the startups for technical feasibility and IP conflicts, Friedman added: “I expect that the right companies can save years and millions of dollars by taking advantage of this deal.”