Synthetic Biology Funding

Three New Mega-Raises Put SynBio on Track for Record-Breaking Year of Funding

Two months ago we brought you the news that the synthetic biology industry was on track for another fantastic year of funding, with over $500 million in venture capital, public funding, and grants raised in the first seven months of 2017. We’re now thrilled to bring you the update that in the past two months alone, that figure has grown to an unbelievable $867 million. This puts the industry on track to match or even beat its record-breaking 2016 year of funding.

Back in July, the uncontested leaders in the fundraising landscape were the MIT CRISPR spinout Editas Medicine with a $90 million stock offering, synthetic DNA maker Twist Bioscience with $60 million raised, and GM crop producer Calyxt with a $56 million IPO.  In the past 60 days, however, that leader board has been given a thorough shake-up and a number of new mega-raisers have joined their ranks.

Most notably, Editas has been dethroned from its position as the number one fundraiser by a new collaboration between Bayer and Ginkgo Bioworks.  The yet-unnamed company raked in a $100 million series A round– yes, you heard that right: series A– from its parent companies and additional investors. This venture will merge Ginkgo Bioworks’ platform for engineering custom microorganisms and Bayer’s plant biologics innovation. Bayer and Ginkgo’s focus will be on developing a sustainable source of nitrogen fertilizer for crop plants by tinkering with the nitrogen-fixing microbes upon which these plants rely. This is the kind of platform whose profound transformative potential can really only be conveyed in something like a mind-boggling $100-million series A.

Synthetic biology funding

But the Bayer-Ginkgo venture isn’t the only company making headlines for its amazingly large recent raise. Autolus, a spinout of University College London Business, gave the top raisers a run for their money and now holds third place in most funds raised with its closure of an $80 million series C round. Autolus’ tech pipeline includes clinical-stage engineered T-cell therapies for three different blood cancers, as well as pre-clinical stage products for solid tumors. With the very first engineered T-cell therapy (brought to you by Novartis) having just been given the green light by the US FDA, the space is an undeniably exciting one to be in.  Autolus’ blockbuster raise will certainly not be the last we see of funding being poured into the now-proven area of CAR-T cell therapy.

Lastly, top 2017 fundraisers were also joined by LifeMine Therapeutics, which raised a series A round of $55 million in venture capital funding. Sitting in the shadow of Bayer and Ginkgo’s series A round, this figure sounds less impressive than it is– but keep in mind that this is well over double the amount pulled in by the average synbio startup. LifeMine is a drug discovery company with a reportedly revolutionary platform for honing in on small molecules associated with disease pathways. Their platform applies artificial intelligence to the genomes of eukaryotic microbes to identify drug candidates rapidly and at scale. LifeMine is promising to disrupt conventional drug discovery methods and transform the pipeline leading into pharma.

Beyond these three recent mega-raisers, ten additional synbio companies have together added over $100 million to the running total of funds raised this year. Among them were three companies developing platforms based on living therapeutics for human microbiome diseases: Chain Biotech, Synlogic, and Eligo Bioscience, who brought in a $670,000 grant, a $42 million series C, and a $20 million series A, respectively.

DNA Script, a next-generation DNA synthesis startup, raised a $13 million series A round while DNA parts and library supplier Oxford Genetics added a $10 million investment, bringing its total for the year to over $12 million. Synthace, a startup developing a new operating system for life sciences computation, brought in $9.6 million. Specialty chemical fermentation company Evolva landed an $8.35 million contract with the CDC for production of sustainable mosquito repellent. GRO Biosciences, an MIT spinout developing tech for producing better therapeutic proteins, brought in $2.1 million while MicroSynbiotix secured $1.2 million to fund their development of sustainable oral vaccines for the aquaculture industry. Finally, Linear Diagnostics raised $400,000 for their portable device to characterize microbial populations in food and medical applications.

With so much recent funding activity in so little time, we can’t wait to see how the remaining months of 2017 play out for the synthetic biology industry.  As always, stay tuned to the SynBioBeta newsfeed for coming industry updates.

Christine Stevenson

Christine Stevenson

Christine Stevenson is a freelance science writer and adjunct professor of biology at the Maricopa Community Colleges in the Phoenix metropolitan area. She holds an M.S. in Biology from Arizona State University and has a background in both wet lab research and venture capital consulting. She lives in Tempe, AZ with her dogs, cats, chickens, and goat.

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