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Multifactorial Collaboration: Synthace & Merck Team up to Develop Bio-manufacturing Platform

Biological therapeutics are the way of the future. Targeted antibodies, replacement enzymes, carefully crafted DNA – we have barely begun to see the changes that these possibilities will bring. But biologicals bring their own challenges with them, and one of the most difficult challenges is to actually produce them. It’s not just a matter of throwing your engineered microbe into a bioreactor, industrial scale biotech requires careful assessment of all the factors that impact the process, including the genetic engineering of the organism, the feedstocks for the process, and the environment in which the process is run. But which factors? To answer this, Synthace Ltd. recently announced that they are collaborating with Merck & Co. Inc to develop a highly optimised bio-manufacturing platform.

Synthace are a bioengineering company with a heavy focus on automating research and development, utilising carefully designed experiments that can maximize the rate of learning about the complex interactions underlying biological systems. Intelligent navigation through this accumulated knowledge, formally known as empirically determined biological design space, allows them to rapidly identify optimum processes. This ability to address highly complex biological design problems and rapidly identify important optimisation factors makes Synthace an ideal match for one of the largest pharmaceutical firms in the world, Merck & Co. The two have previously worked together, but this new agreement will combine Synthace’s high-dimensional methods and Antha biological programming language with Merck’s know-how in the bio-production space.

Naturally both parties are highly excited about this project. Synthace CEO Tim Fell commented that he was “very happy indeed as Merck are true leaders in bioprocess innovation and fantastic partners to be working with”. David Pollard, who leads the Biologics Technology & Expression group, part of Biologics BioProcess Development at Merck & Co, is also enthusiastic about the possibilities it opens up, noting that “for biotech/biopharma this has potential to shorten development timelines and shorten the time to critical First in Human studies”.

Synthace is developing a highly optimised bio-manufacturing platform.

This is turning out to be quite a good month for Synthace, who just a few weeks ago announced that they would be collaborating with Dow AgroSciences LLC to develop improved microbial production strains. A large part of Synthace’s technology rests upon the Antha language, which can be thought of as an open-source programming language for biology and biology-based apparatus. We wrote quite a bit about this system in a previous post, but the major advantages can essentially be summarised as: it is highly scalable, flexible, and brand-agnostic. This brand-agnosticism, the ability to interface between multiple disparate systems, is a major strength of Antha – and was a critical factor in working with Merck. As David comments, “Merck has worked with a number of suppliers to develop and implement high throughput automated disposable technologies such as the Sartorius ambr250. But the challenge of interfacing these tools for an end to end workflow remained. Antha can execute this integration, as well as providing data management and visualization.”

It is still early days, with David commenting that they have “begun collaboration with microbial expression systems and we are discussing approaches to implement into CHO cells.” Both companies have been collaborating for a while now, and this strong pool of knowledge and shared experience, is bearing fruit. As Tim notes, the project is “already generating tremendous data showing that powerful genetic and process factor interactions can be identified and locked-in early in the research stage … truly bringing design for manufacturing to bioengineering.”

This is a promising start to a collaboration which combines high-throughput automation and data analysis with world-class biological production methods – a recipe for success in any book. We’ll be very interested to see where these two will go from here.

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Christopher Harrison

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