SynBioBeta London 2017
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Highlights of Day 1 of SynBioBeta London 2017

Breaking into the first day of SynBioBeta London 2017, our very own former-NASA scientist and co-founder of SynBioBeta, Dr John Cumbers, and Palo-alto based Data Collective fund (DCVC), announced a new pre-seed and seed venture capital fund for startups in the SynBio scene: the DCVC SynBioBeta fund.

Matt Ocko, co-Managing Partner at DCVC said: “John has been running the premier network for the synthetic biology industry, sees new companies and technologies before most people do, and understands where the technologies are headed. We’re excited to have him bringing in new investments.”

And on this exciting note, the conference delved head on into its first round of lightning talks, including speakers from China, France, Denmark, Austria, Portugal, UK and of course, “the second Cambridge” (aka Boston). A full breakdown of the other speakers recent ventures will be covered on our website on Monday.

Meagan Lizarazo, who has been organising the iGEM Giant Jamboree at MIT for the past 12 years, announced the launch of an alumni programme for those who had excelled in the synthetic biology pilgrimage during their university days.

The AlumniGEM programme will offer previous participants opportunities such as mentorships and further specialist events, such as one held at the United Nations on biodiversity, and a peer review jamboree in collaboration with PLOS. “We’re looking to continue being a driving force in synthetic biology,” Meagan explained.

Direct from one of Stanford’s lecture halls, a keynote was then flown to us in the form of Drew Endy, a serial entrepreneur, researcher and founder of BioBricks, a non-profit foundation for open-source biology.

“We need personal DNA synthesisers,” he said. “Centralised manufacturing services are great but I want to go anywhere in the world,” he explained. But then how can we address the growing concerns and policy demands which synthetic biology has accumulated in the last decade? Solving this cultural conundrum is no mean feat, and although Drew stressed he didn’t have a definite solution, “taking infectious diseases off of the table, and instead returning to a literacy framework,” might help.

Yet it is in the area of infectious diseases SynBio has been making some of the greatest leaps and bounds, with UK-based Oxitec deploying GM mosquitoes to tackle diseases like Dengue fever and the Zika virus.

In a fireside chat with Dr Thomas Bostick from Intrexon – which acquired Oxitec in 2015 – and Christine Gould, founder of Thought for Food looked to further explore the idea of how the recent innovation boom in circular economy-focused startups could transform the synbio discussion by“connecting unexpected dots.”

However, as a self confessed “hardcore engineer”, Thomas told us “being at the intersection of anything is really hard, and bringing together such diverse groups for solutions in synthetic biology requires strong leadership,” citing Oxitec’s CEO, Haydn Parry, as an example.

A second keynote was delivered by Lord Prior of Brampton, a member of the UK House of Lords who was appointed the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in December.  

“The British are incorrigibly incrementalist, and not willing to make leaps like Google,” the conservative Lord Prior commented. “We have to win the argument as to why we need these technologies for the betterment of society.”

And inevitably on the topic of Brexit, he emphasised: “We also must win the global battle for talent. Britain should not be considered synonymous with a tight immigration policy.”

Other lightning talks on the exact tools of the disruptive trade in SynBio were delivered by synthetic DNA cloud service providers such as Emily Leproust, CEO of Twist Bioscience, and Yvonne Linney, the COO of Transcriptic.

“A small number of companies represent a meaningful portion of the demand for synthetic DNA,” said Emily. However, there is a significant customer base with low-volume demand for these tools too, which – announced today – Twist will now address with its eCommerce platform.

Finally, to wrap up the day, a fireside chat on investment in the industry was delivered by Tim Fell from Synthace and Hermann Hauser at Amadeus Capital Partners. Also announced today at SynBioBeta, UK-based Synthace has partnered with Cambridge Consultants.

A full length breakdown of industry announcements and the discussion at SynBioBeta London 2017 will be made available to you next week.

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Dani Bancroft

Biotech & Pharma Industry journalist with experience of native
advertising and reporting for B2B, academic and lay audiences.

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