November 2, 2016

Gen9 Synthesizes Largest Functional Virus for Oncology Research, Joined by Auburn University and Autodesk to Enable Personalized Cancer Treatment

Kevin Munnelly Gen9
Kevin Munnelly, CEO of Gen9

Gen9’s partnership streak continues. Throughout the year, the gene synthesis company has announced numerous partnerships focused on DNA supply agreements, most notably with companies such as Amyris, which is focused on high-performance renewable products; Ginkgo, which specializes in custom microorganism design; and Arzeda, which seeks to transform chemical production.

In a novel twist, Gen9 is now joined by Auburn University and Autodesk to create the longest synthetic virus for cancer research ever developed and explore the consequences of the feat.

The technical basis that enabled the synthesis was none other than Gen9’s BioFab, a chip-based DNA synthesis platform that was unveiled last March, along with the company’s new offering of “high quality, long-length clonal DNA constructs […] as a standard product, tailored for scientists who utilize megabase quantities of gene-length synthetic DNA for industrial workflows in diverse markets.” This high-quality synthesis of long-length DNA enabled the researchers at The Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine, the seventh oldest college of veterinary medicine in North America and was the first in the southeastern United States, to accelerate their research enormously. The timeframe for the development of the synthetic virus, generally conditioned by the time-consuming process of DNA synthesis, was reduced from months to barely weeks.

The synthetic viral genome generated is key for canine bone cancer research, and its translation into human cancer therapies could revolutionize current approaches to personalized medicine for cancer treatment. The synthetic biology approach, combined with enabling technical advances such as the BioFab, can make the dream of rapid creation of custom-made therapeutic viruses a reality.

“Our concept is taking personalized medicine to precision medicine. The technology to create a new virus by synthesizing it is a huge leap, but the ability to then make a customized virus tailored to the specific needs of each patient will be transformative,” said the project leader, Doctor Bruce F. Smith, V.M.D, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Pathobiology and Director of the Auburn University Research Initiative in Cancer (AURIC). “This could change the way we fight cancer. It is that revolutionary.”

The virus itself, sCAV2, is the longest functional virus ever synthesized for oncology research, and measures over 34,000 base pairs in length. It is a conditionally replicative adenovirus (CRAd) that selectively targets and destroys tumor cells without harming healthy ones in the process. It is being evaluated as a possible tool for treatment in dogs with osteosarcoma, which currently has a survival rate of less than 10%.

Personalized viruses such as this one could be used to treat potentially everything. The scope of such a technology calls for a partner capable of exploring the frontiers of this application, and so Autodesk comes in. During SynBioBeta SF 2016, the company’s BioNano Research Group presented their extensible, open source, cloud CAD tool to drive biological design, plus the new extension developed in partnership with Amyris: the Genotype Specific Language. After blurring the lines between computer science and biotechnology so insistently, erasing the ones between medicine and nanofabrication seems like a great step to take.

“At Autodesk, we’ve been prototyping the ‘3D printing’ of medicines for several years,” said Andrew Hessel, distinguished research scientist in the Autodesk BioNano Research Group, and the catalyst behind the project. “This work demonstrates that personalized, made-on-demand therapies are within reach, and our efforts in combatting cancer in dogs could lead the way in next-generation care.”

The enabling power of rapid DNA synthesis platform and its applications in high impact issues is a testament to what synthetic biology can and should do for society.

“The construction of this viral genome is a tremendous step for DNA synthesis and its application to therapeutics research,” stated Dr. Devin Leake, Vice President of Research and Development at Gen9, through their latest press release. “Our partnership with Autodesk and Auburn sums up what fundamentally excites us the most about the field of synthetic biology and what we do here at Gen9—collaborating with world-class scientists on the groundbreaking research that is shaping the future.”