Two months after launching its Onyx™ Digital Genome Engineering platform, Inscripta recently announced an additional $125 million in financing, with plans to accelerate expansion of its applications and commercialization of the benchtop instrument for genome-scale engineering.

That acceleration, Inscripta CEO Kevin Ness, PhD, told GEN Edge, will mean expanding the platform’s capabilities beyond microbes—the system is initially targeted at E. coli and yeast—to include the ability to support mammalian cells including humans.

“It is Inscripta’s strong mission to continue to deliver the best tools to the customers. The expansion of the cell types that we support is a natural evolution,” Ness said. “We’re not disclosing that roadmap. But I will tell you mammalian is a very strong interest that we’re hearing from the customer base, and something that is our absolute intention.”

Ness and Inscripta Chief Commercial Officer Jason T. Gammack discussed Inscripta’s $125 million Series D financing and the development of its Onyx platform with GEN Edge. Financing was led by Paladin Capital Group, with support from the company’s existing investors and new investors JS Capital Management, and Oak HC/FT.

The financing has brought Inscripta’s total capital raised to almost $260 million—which the company says will better enable it to scale up its development and commercialization efforts, including more hires. Ness said that Inscripta plans to expand its existing three sites: The company is headquartered in Boulder, CO, with sites in the San Francisco suburb of Pleasanton, CA, and San Diego.

Inscripta also plans to establish a presence in Europe and is exploring how to market its offerings and support its customers in Asia. “Our focus is complete customer satisfaction and ensuring that we have 100% success with all of our customers,” Gammack said. “These resources will be used to ensure that those goals are achieved and having the proper talent in the field, as well as the proper channels in the back office to support the customers.”

Onyx Launched

Inscripta Chief Commercial Officer Jason T. Gammack

Inscripta launched Onyx at SynBioBeta last October in San Francisco, with Ness speaking on “A New Era in Genome Engineering.” According to Inscripta, Onyx is the world’s first fully automated benchtop instrument for genome-scale engineering.

The Onyx platform consists of an instrument, consumables, software, and assays. 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.

“The market response has been tremendous, and this for us has been really encouraging in both validating our work as well as really understanding the need in the market,” Gammack said. “What has also been very encouraging is that the interest of the market has been across all of our customer categories.” Those categories, Gammack said, include academic users, bio foundries now struggling with the existing constraints of genome writing technology, and drug developers.

Early users of Onyx include some leading names in the synthetic biology space, such as Jay D. Keasling, PhD, University of California, Berkeley, and CEO of the Joint BioEnergy Institute; Christopher A. Voigt, PhD, Professor of Advanced Biotechnology at MIT; Jim J. Collins, PhD, professor of medical engineering and science at MIT; and Willow BioSciences, a Calgary-based synthetic biology company focused on innovative cannabinoid production.


Inscripta says its platform aims to help researchers unlock the potential of CRISPR beyond simply editing a gene.

“It’s weird to say CRISPR is inadequate, but it truly is in its current form… It’s very low-throughput, tedious, manual, and doesn’t really ensure you get to the end answer,” Ness said. The Onyx platform moves from gene editing to full scale genome engineering, where “we’re not just looking at one gene, we’re going to all genes. We’re not just knocking out the genes. We’re doing insertions, deletions, swaps, gene regulation of the proteins.

Onyx™ Digital Genome Engineering platform

We’re regulating proteins that are edited. And we’re knocking out certain genes and parts of the pathway.”

“We’re not gene editing. We are a genome engineering company, of which synthetic biology plays a part of it,” Ness added.

In addition to offering its benchtop instrument, Inscripta is also planning in 2020 to offer its next class of product under the Onyx umbrella — a combinatorial editing set of kits and reagents for E. coli and yeast.

Cell and Mutation Combinations

“What this does is very unique from the perspective that it takes the information from that first round, those cells that had the phenotype that you cared about, that had the beneficial mutation,” Ness explained. “We’ll take and recombine those cells, those mutations in the cell, in combinations. You could start to drive in a second class of cells that would be made up of only multiple beneficial mutations that were discovered in the first class of single-edit kits that was used.”

“When you have single-edit and combinatorial editing in the ecosystem that we’ve built of software, instrument, consumables, and assays, it really gives the biological researcher all the tools they need to kind-of jump into the Inscripta ecosystem, and then begin to move biology to the end state that they truly care about,” Ness said.

Gammack added: “Generally, people will create a library of single edits, which generates diversity that they then select and recombine in a next round of experimentation, so you could see a connectivity between them, but not required to be connected.”

As for the benchtop system, we asked whether enhancements focus on making it more compact—or on perfecting the platform and potentially enlarging the size of instrument, as Apple has done over the years with its iPhone?

“We have many directions that we can take this technology and platform. The honest answer is both,” Ness said. “What we’re going to do is, working with the marketplace, really listening to our customers, what they want, and respond.”

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