April 13, 2016

Hot Synthetic Biology Companies at SynBioBeta London 2016

Last week I attended SynBioBeta Conference London, to catch up with the latest developments in synthetic biology commercialisation. A fascinating selection of UK and international companies presented their newest innovative products using synbio technology. From gene editing therapies using CRISPR, to delivering chemicals and medicines using microbes, a spectacular range of novel applications seem possible with synbio.

Innovative products

An impressive group of innovators showcased their biorenewable products using synbio technology at SynBioBeta 2016. Deinove have developed routes to bioproducts such as carotenoids, mucconic acid and advanced bioethanol, using their host bacterial species Deinococcus. Biosyntia are engineering bacteria for the production of fine chemicals from bacteria, replacing conventional fossil based synthesis, their current focus is around vitamin synthesis. Evolva are producing a grapefruit terpene called Nootkatone using bacteria, which can be used as an insect repellent while smelling like grapefruit – which Evolva claim is more pleasant to use than alternatives like DEET. Evolva’s product can also be made affordably and consistently in large volumes, rather than extracting small amounts from seasonally produced grapefruits. Synbio is also being used to develop enzymes, by companies including GSK and Novozymes.

CRISPR genetic editing technology has been ravenously taken up by many synbio innovators, with a lot of buzz and enthusiasm about its ability to quickly and effectively cut and paste DNA in living cells. Companies like Horizon Discovery are using CRISPR for better drug discovery, and AstraZeneca are using CRISPR to develop cell lines for drug discovery and delivery.  ThermoScientific and Quethera are investigating curing genetic disorders such as sickle cell anaemia and Glaucoma. For selective removal of pathogenic bacteria Eligo Bioscience are developing sequence specific antimicrobials with CRISPR technology, while leaving ‘good’ bacteria in place.

The area of engineering the microbiome is a hot area for health products. Research is increasingly showing the importance of having a healthy microbiome. This has led to the development of bio-therapies to rebalance problem causing microbiomes and improve health. For the skin, AOBiome have a range of products to treat skin problems such as acne and eczema with a ‘healthy’ bacterial spray, while Topgenix is developing bio-sunscreens using natural UV filters found in algae. Within the body, Synlogic are trialling synthetic biotics to treat diseases throughout the body, and Prokarium are using bacteria to deliver drugs such as vaccines via the gut rather than injection.

Development of ideas

The automation of synbio techniques using robotics and new genetic tools, is allowing genetic engineering to become cheaper and faster at a rapid pace. Companies like Twist and Gen9 are continuously improving speed and volume of DNA printing, and Ourobotics are now 3D printing tissue, to manufacture biological tissue and organisms. Other innovators are speeding up discovery by developing software and simulation tools, such as LabGenius, Synthace and Fgen. Amyris have developed a programming language for DNA, helping them develop 15 antimalarial products and have identified 450 new targets which require engineers to automate the process and speed up product development.

The importance of building partnerships and value chains was strongly encouraged at SynBioBeta. By recognising your own and other companies key competencies, rather than trying to do everything alone, innovations are much more likely to be successful. These partnerships take months to years to build but are well worth it, particularly where small companies collaborate with larger ones to enable manufacturing and product commercialisation.

Responsible Innovation

A range of current issues were debated at SynBioBeta. One of the most prominent discussions was about the importance of responsible innovation. This was seen as key to protect people and the environment and to gain public trust. Appropriate health and safety regulation from governments and companies operating in synbio, was deemed vital to maintain the reputation of the industry. Engaging with stakeholders and the public is also essential, as they may suggest novel applications not yet considered by industry and can steer synbio towards public acceptance.

The importance of relaying benefits to the consumer was also stressed for winning public support and for successful marketing of synbio products. These new products can add new functionality, be pleasant to use, effective, affordable, and can be safer for people and the environment than current products.

Democratisation of bio-science

Some entrepreneurs took gaining public acceptance to a new level, with the concept of ‘democratisation of science’.  BentoLab are selling affordable, portable molecular labs, which are mostly being used by field scientists and educational institutes. GenSpace make cheap lab space and guidance available in their community labs and act as affordable ‘innovation-incubators’. Currently GenSpace is mainly used by trained scientists developing innovative ideas, and other professionals who contribute tools or knowledge to the community.

These open up experimental genetic engineering for all. Some argue this is fair, as science is too inaccessible to those outside of universities, due to expensive incubator space and cost of equipment. While others have called into question how responsible the companies were making synbio tools available to the public, and have voiced concerned about the safety and ethics of ‘less informed’ people applying synbio tools outside of more regulated space. Both sides have valid points, and need careful consideration by those providing tools to the public.

Synthetic biology and biorenewables consultancy

The rate of innovation in synbio is rapid. For consultancy and guidance in synbio markets, policy, and commercialisation, NNFCC are here to help. We have been working in industrial biotechnology and biorenewable products for over 12 years. NNFCC are coordinators of the UK Industrial Biotechnology Catalyst programme investing in IB innovation and partners in European projects BioBase4SME and SuperBio. The Interreg NWE project BioBase4SME will support biobased innovation across North West Europe and the H2020 project SuperBio aims to build new trans-national bioeconomy value chains.

For more information please contact Adrian Higson, our lead Consultant for Bio-based Products.

This article was written by Dr Caitlin Burns, NNFCC Consultant, and it was published on April 12 on NNFCC



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