Is Synthetic Genomics Looking to IPO Soon?

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In Q1 of 2014, we highlighted a very exciting company called Synthetic Genomics which was founded in 2005 by Craig Venter. Mr. Venter previously founded The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR), the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI), and genetic sequencing company Celera Corporation which was acquired by Quest Diagnostics (NYSE:DGX) in 2011 for about $650 million. Mr. Venter was one of the first people to sequence the human genome and the first person to create synthetic life. Since our last article, Synthetic Genomics has established an internal structure within their firm and provided some additional information about what they are currently focused on.

Synthetic Genomics Inc. or SGI refers to the Company’s Core Technologies group which develops and commercializes synthetic genomics technologies through the 3 main subsidiaries seen below:

  1. SGI-DNA: (Genomics Software, Products, and Services)
  2. Synthetic Genomics Vaccine Inc. (SGVI): (Vaccines and Therapeutics)
  3. Genovia Bio: (Human and Animal Nutrition, Algae Bio Fuels)

In May 2014, SGI signed a multi-year research and development agreement with Lung Biotechnology, a subsidiary of United Therapeutics (NASDAQ:UTHR), to develop humanized pig organs using synthetic genomic advances. In a page out of a science fiction novel, SGI plans to develop engineered pig cells which have modified genomes. United Therapeutics will then leverage their xenotransplantation expertise to implant these engineered cells into pig embryos which will then develop into pigs with humanized lungs. While the initial focus is on lungs, SGI believes that the technology can eventually be extended to all organs. In addition to this rather remarkable ambition, there have been other progressions made in each of the 3 subsidiaries during 2014/2015.

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In addition to cloning and sequencing services, SGI-DNA sells a number of other synthetic genomics solutions in three main areas. 1) Reagents: The Gibson Assembly® method was developed in 2009 by researchers at the J. Craig Venter Institute during the team’s quest to construct the first synthetic cell. Since then, the Gibson Assembly® method has been cited by over 600 scientific publications. 2) Instruments: Retailing for $49,500 USD, The BioXp™ 3200 System is an automated personal DNA workstation which delivers high-quality synthetic DNA fragments. The workstation has the capacity to simultaneously build 32 unique double-stranded DNA fragments. 3) Software: Archetype® software is a genomics discovery software suite that enables researchers to discover, analyze and build synthetic genes and pathways.

Update 09/10/19: SGI-DNA has raised $25 million in Series A funding for the global commercial launch of its automated gene synthesis platform, and expand its automated Gibson Assembly® applications, including an instrument that converts digitized DNA code to biological entities. This brings the company’s total funding to $25 million to date.  

For the vaccines business line, SGVI has partnered with Novartis on the development of three vaccine programs, and SGVI is currently pursuing three additional vaccine programs independently. For the therapeutics business line, SGVI is working on bacteriophage (phage) therapy to target antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains which are on the rise globally.

Genovia Bio is working on 4 primary applications in this subsidiary. 1) Proteins Algae proteins for use in a variety of food and beverage products. Genovia’s goal is to provide a complete vegetarian protein source which is non-allergenic and is taste-neutral. 2) Biofuels As mentioned in our last article on Synthetic Genomics, the Company’s work with Exxon continues towards making algae biofuels cost-competitive with existing hydrocarbon fuels. 3) Omega-3 In May 2014, Genovia announced a long-term strategic partnership with Archer Daniels Midland Company (NYSE:ADM) to commercialize Omega-3 from algae. 4) Astaxanthin This is a nutritional supplement with multiple clinically-proven health benefits associated with its powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It is very difficult to produce. Genovia’s natural astaxanthin has U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulatory approval for dietary supplement applications.

Under the Genovia Bio umbrella are also two other business segments. The first, Aquacela, is an SGI business focused on developing and harnessing microbial fuel cell technology as a biological system to clean water and generate electricity. The Company, which doesn’t have a website yet, has conducted several successful tests of their technology and is looking for companies to partner with. The second, Agracast was founded in February 2013 after their previous subsidiary, Agradis, was acquired by Monsanto. Some assets from Agradis were not purchased by Monsanto, specifically castor and sweet sorghum breeding and genetic optimization technologies, as well as a novel product used to prevent fungal growth on fruits and vegetables.

Will we see a Synthetic Genomics IPO Soon?

Synthetic Genomics has structured their firm into 3 verticals and revamped their corporate image with a new website. The notorious Silicon Valley VC firm, Draper Fisher Jurvetson (DFJ), has two directors on the Synthetic Genomics Board of Directors, one of whom is Steve Jurvetson himself. It’s coming up on the 10th anniversary of DFJ’s initial Series A investment in Synthetic Genomics and with the biotech IPO market looking red hot lately, they may be looking for a liquidation event before the window slams shut. Regardless of which exit Synthetic Genomics ends up taking, it remains one of the most promising synthetic biology start-ups today.

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