Ginkgo Bioworks Announces Biosecurity Initiative, Using Deep Learning to Reduce the Global Threat of Biological Weapons and Infectious Disease

Company’s multiple contracts with a total $64M ceiling with IARPA, DoD, and DHS establish integrated platform to enable the responsible growth of synthetic biology and its application in health and biosecurity

BOSTON, June 27, 2018 /PRNewswire/ — Ginkgo Bioworks, the organism company, today announced its participation in a suite of U.S. government programs, establishing a strategic initiative in biosecurity. The power of synthetic biology is poised to reinvent everything from manufacturing to medicine, but as the technology advances, safeguards must be put in place to ensure it is developed responsibly and safely, and that it is put to use to solve global issues like infectious diseases.

Securing Synthetic Biology

As part of broader U.S. Government investment in biosecurity, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) has launched new programs to develop biosecurity tools that aim to prevent the misuse of synthetic biology. To help reduce the danger of these potential risks, Ginkgo is a participant in IARPA’s Functional Genomic and Computational Assessment of Threats (Fun GCAT) program, designing software tools to prevent the intentional or accidental production of biological threats by significantly improving existing DNA synthesis screening capabilities to identify current and future threats based on sequence function.

Ginkgo is part of the Battelle team, alongside other collaborators including synthetic DNA supplier Twist Bioscience and One Codex. As part of the effort, Ginkgo is developing algorithmic approaches to screen DNA sequences, determine if they could be pathogenic or toxic to humans or animals, predict the function of unknown sequences, and assign a threat level based on the potential for harm. Ginkgo’s custom software for biological design is uniquely suited for interpreting gene product function from gene sequence and can be effectively deployed against the challenge of DNA synthesis screening.

Separately, IARPA has awarded Ginkgo a prime contract on the Finding Engineered Linked Indicators (FELIX) program. Ginkgo and partner Northrop Grumman are developing deep learning technology tools to detect whether DNA sequences have been engineered. This software tool is intended as a detector of potential bioterror or bioerror events.

As part of this broad, long-term initiative, Ginkgo is also announcing that Andrew Weber, former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Defense Programs under the Obama Administration, has become an advisor to the company. “The revolution in synthetic biology and deep learning will dramatically improve our ability to prevent, detect, and rapidly counteract biothreats,” Weber said. “These are exciting new tools that offer the opportunity to take the global threat of biological weapons off the table.”

“Synthetic biology is incredibly powerful, not just for the future of manufacturing but also in the evolution of biosecurity,” said Jason Kelly, Ginkgo Bioworks CEO. “We look forward to leveraging our technology and working closely with other stakeholders to develop tools for monitoring potential threats, both natural and engineered. We’re honored to have Andy Weber’s expertise and years of experience in responsible innovation as he joins us an advisor and oversees our commitment to biosecurity.”

Developing medical countermeasures

Ginkgo has also been named a member of the Counter Weapons of Mass Destruction Consortium (CWMD), a group of companies and universities committed to developing prototype technologies for countering, neutralizing, and counterproliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Ginkgo’s work may include developing enzymes that can sense and degrade a variety of chemical and biological threats.

Alongside CWMD efforts to identify and monitor potential biosecurity threats, Ginkgo is also involved in a number of initiatives focused on medical countermeasure development. Ginkgo is now part of the Medical Countermeasures Defense Consortium (MCDC), which supports the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical and Biological Defense (JPEO-CBD) and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) to prevent, diagnose, and treat current and emerging diseases and toxins.

Developing medical countermeasures requires a host of technologies to detect, understand, and respond to threats with treatments or vaccines. Towards this effort, Ginkgo is supporting the Battelle team on a $43.5 million task order under the Department of Defense Information Analysis Center (DoD IAC) Homeland Defense and Security Technical Area Task (HD TAT)  Multi-Award Contract. This award has a four year period of performance and supports the characterization of biological threats to help the nation prevent, prepare for, respond to, and recover from a biological incident.

Building a biosecurity initiative

In addition to the IARPA and medical countermeasures programs, Ginkgo was selected as a prime contractor on the $8.27 billion Joint Enterprise Research, Development, Acquisition and Production/Procurement (JE-RDAP) ID/IQ contract. This enterprise omnibus contract vehicle is available for use by the entire Department of Defense for Chemical and Biological defense projects, with the ID/IQ contract giving the government a pathway for rapidly developing and deploying new technologies. For Ginkgo—the only synthetic biology company to be awarded an ID/IQ—this means being able to field comprehensive biosecurity tools such as the final software developed as part of Fun GCAT and FELIX. Beyond this, with the broad scope and ten year duration of the JE-RDAP, Ginkgo will be able to develop biosecurity tools well beyond what is possible with the current state of the art.

Together, these awards demonstrate Ginkgo’s approach to biosecurity and the responsible growth of synthetic biology, focused on protection, detection, and remediation against potential threats, including naturally occurring pathogens. More information on Ginkgo’s biosecurity program can be found here.

Contact: Kelsey Donohue, 718-362-3629, kdonohue@bateman-group.com

Source: https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/ginkgo-bioworks-announces-biosecurity-initiative-using-deep-learning-to-reduce-the-global-threat-of-biological-weapons-and-infectious-disease-300672908.html

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