Synthego today announced its inaugural Genome Engineer Innovation Grant, which will provide $1 million worth of CRISPR tools to select research labs. It’s part of the company’s ongoing mission to make genome engineering tools accessible to all scientists, even those with limited resources and tight budgets.
In a few short years, CRISPR has transformed the way researchers do genetic engineering. Precision cut-and-paste gene editing — a capability that is still on the horizon — would revolutionize everything from personalized cancer cures to sustainable food sources to materials with otherworldly properties. Synthego wants to spark innovation, build its user base, and let a thousand flowers bloom.
“We’re trying to drive the creation of innovative ideas,” Synthego CSO Rich Stoner told me. Big research impacts often require access to big amounts of money, tools and services. This program aims to eliminate those barriers to see what innovators can do. “We anticipate many applications will come from researchers just starting CRISPR” and those without the means to build a CRISPR capability in their own labs, he said.
In November 2016, Synthego launched its “12 Days of CRISPR” program to educate researchers and provide $100K in research grants and resources. Sparking creative proposals ranging from new gene therapy protocols to butterfly genome editing, it ultimately led to several publications, some new customers, and a greater awareness of the CRISPR tools available to researchers. Synthego hopes to build on the success of that program. “We’re hoping that the range of submissions for this grant is even broader than the first time,” Stoner said, “and that’s exciting on our side.”
First, you need a team that is up to speed on all of the latest trends and technologies, Stoner said, “bringing these new capabilities in house to test them out, optimize them, make them work, and then work with the rest of the organization to turn them into products and services.”
The other key part relates to how quickly can you take a new idea or finding and translate it into something of value. “One of the things we’ve done incredibly well at Synthego is to blend a wide range of disciplines into a common community internally,” said Stoner. “And so you have scientists sitting next to engineers sitting next to chemists sitting next to software engineers, all working on… taking new ideas in, whether it’s in design, analysis, synthesis or editing… Understanding how they work, leveraging the assets that we have, and getting to really powerful proof of concepts in a very, very short amount of time.”
And as with the technology, the CRISPR patent landscape is also rather fluid.
“Yes, there’s a lot of litigation and contention around the core patents,” Stoner agreed. “But the pace of innovation in the field to create new nucleases, new ways to edit, safe ways to edit, and more predictability means that we’re very optimistic about the future of the technologies we’re deploying now as well as the technologies we’re developing over the next few years.”
The Genome Engineer Innovation Grant aims to make those very technologies available not just to existing customers, but also the broader community.