September 20, 2017

From the Lab to the Marketplace: Creating Business Opportunities for Synthetic Biologists

James Hallinan Cambridge Consultants

This week we interviewed James Hallinan, Business Development Manager of Synthetic Biology at Cambridge Consultants, who will be speaking in the session What’s Your Bio-Strategy? (sponsored by Ginkgo Bioworks) at SynBioBeta SF 2017 on October 3rd.

With a strong commercial focus on synthetic biology, Cambridge Consultants is creating novel tools, processes and platforms that accelerate the design-build-test cycle. They develop breakthrough products, create and license intellectual property, and provide business consultancy to help their clients to understand the business opportunities and applications for synthetic biology.

Cambridge Consultants demonstrated that it is taking synthetic biology very seriously last year by announcing the launch of a DNA synthesis spin-out company, Evonetix. The joint venture, supported by technology entrepreneur and venture capitalist Hermann Hauser, is exploiting novel methods to produce DNA with very high accuracy.

Evonetix is one of the latest in a long line of more than 20 spin-outs from Cambridge Consultants, which has been at the centre of the Cambridge technology cluster in the UK for over 50 years and now also has headquarters in Boston (USA), Singapore, Japan and India.

More recently, Cambridge Consultants joined forces with Synthace to help remove some of the manual and often painstaking work that scientists undertake in experimentation – and use software and processes which can exponentially accelerate bioscience. They also partnered with Sphere Fluidics to help develop Cyto-Mine®, a single cell analysis instrument capable of dispensing single picodroplets on demand for therapeutic, bioproduction and diagnostic applications.

They also have strong relationships with academia, particularly the University of Cambridge, the University of Edinburgh and The University of Manchester SYNBIOCHEM, all of which are leading centers for synthetic biology.

Check out our interview with James and register for SynBioBeta SF 2017 to learn more:

Why is synthetic biology such an exciting field to be part of at the moment?

Synthetic Biology is exciting to us because we see an amazing transformation across all industries as they move to biological production of products. Making plastics, textiles, therapeutics, fuels, even armor and computers using biology is becoming a reality. Most amazing is the move from merely replicating existing materials to making new molecules with novel, designed properties for new applications. All of this rapid progress needs to be facilitated by better ways of working, from improved automation (and use of automation) through to better data capture and analytics.

Looking forward, in which area of synthetic biology do you see the most potential for growth?

I think that the wins have already been made in biofuels and in industrial biotech. As we go forward, agritech (including aquaculture) and materials production are where we see revenues starting to increase and profitability becomes feasible and realisable. In the longer term, I think it’s clear that human therapeutics and diagnostics will be transformed by synbio, via production of biologic and cell therapies through to microbiome engineering, and this sector may well deliver some of the highest value.

What do you think are the UK’s greatest strengths as a life sciences industry, and what does it need to do better?

The UK has had an excellent research base for many decades (and being based in Cambridge, I should say centuries!). Despite the immediate challenges of slow economic growth and uncertainty around Brexit, the Cambridge/Oxford/London clusters are still growing and innovating at an incredible rate.

Another great strength for UK life science is the friendly investor community– it perhaps doesn’t have the deep pockets of the Bay Area, but investors in the UK are keen to see young life science companies grow and succeed in a way that doesn’t happen in the rest of Europe and the Asia/Pacific. The big problem is follow-on funding, from Series B onwards where there’s not the capital and expertise available to really drive the sector forward in a way that is commensurate with the strength of UK R&D.

Can you tell us about your projects at Cambridge Consultants?

We’re working with clients across a range of activities – everything from strategic consulting, helping companies move into the biodesign space, through to solving scale-up and production challenges via automation, custom instrumentation and data management.

We are also pursuing some internal projects around automation, with a focus on increasing the throughput of screening. The explosion in library construction techniques and technologies has been great for the sector, enabling a wider DoE space to be explored, but has shifted the bottleneck to screening – even with the ability to look at 10^6 colonies a day, it’s going to take too long to screen a library with 10^8 positive hits out of a 10^12 library. 

We passionately believe that automation is the solution to this, via everything from microfluidics to optics to machine learning.  That’s driven our collaboration with Synthace– their great platform Antha is all about making automation solutions useable and hence improving throughput and reducing R&D time.

What are the upcoming milestones and long-term priorities for Cambridge Consultants?

We had a big milestone last year with our acquisition of Synapse Product Development, which gave us a west coast presence in San Francisco and Seattle to complement our existing Boston and of course Cambridge facilities.

Our next drives will see an expansion in Asia, where our Singapore and Tokyo offices are growing rapidly, and bringing in more projects where clients need a global approach to their product development challenges. The other big move will be further collaboration between the Synthetic Biology group with other parts of our business. We’ve had some success already with joint projects across Synbio and Diagnostics, and SynBio with our Agritech group, and we’re now looking more widely at how SynBio can work with (for example) our Wireless and Digital group and our Consumer and Food & Drink groups.

What are you most looking forward to at SynBioBeta SF 2017?

I’m really looking forward to reconnecting with everyone I’ve met at SynBioBeta SF 2016 and at SynBioBeta London earlier this year. I’m also very excited to be bringing colleagues from our San Francisco office along to see what’s going on in biodesign in both the Bay Area and more widely. I want to explain to the attendees how our local presence, global reach, wetlab, drylab and engineering development facilities and our automation and product development capabilities can be helpful to more and more clients as they face the challenges of growing and developing products.

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