Synthorx Takes Synthetic Life to a Whole New Level
Synthetic biology is a theme we like to keep tabs on, not just because of the limitless potential this technology offers, but also because it’s just so darn interesting. The most notable pure-play stock for synthetic biology, Intrexon (XON), has been a volatile ride for shareholders lately. XON makes up a 35% position in the Nanalyze Synthetic Biology Motif which is down -10% over the past year compared to the S&P return of +9% over the same time frame. One other interesting synthetic biology startup to put on your radar is Synthorx.
Founded in 2014, Synthorx has taken in just one Series A funding round of $6 million from Avalon Ventures and Correlation Ventures. The Company announced their inception the same day that they published a paper titled “A semi-synthetic organism with an expanded genetic alphabet“. While Craig Venter of Synthetic Genomics managed to create the first self-replicating single-cell organism, he did so using the traditional “genetic alphabet”. DNA from every known species has the ability to code for or “spell” proteins that are assembled from 20 natural amino acids, based on arrangements of its four chemical bases or letters – A, T, G, and C. Synthorx has managed to create DNA that contains 2 additional synthetic bases, X and Y, which has the potential to spell with an additional 152 novel amino acids. Here’s how Synthorx explains the process:
The man behind this technology is Floyd E. Romesberg of the Scripps Institute who has been working on this project for the past 15 years. Mr. Romesberg has a proven track record of developing biotech companies having co-founded RQx Pharmaceuticals in 2010 which has since been acquired by Genentech. A venture partner at Avalon Ventures, Court R. Turner, was CEO for RQx and is now Synthorx’s CEO. While biotech is their initial focus, it isn’t the only application for Synthorx’s technology. Here are some of the potential applications they hope to target:
So what’s to stop Synthorx from continuing to develop additional synthetic bases? In an interview last year with News Medical, Mr. Romesberg commented that adding additional bases would result in “more amino acids than we would ever be able to use” and that while the concept is interesting, they’re more focused on working to innovate with the 2 synthetic bases they’re working on right now. What about safety issues? Synthorx addresses this potential issue and states that built-in safeguards ensure that if these alien life forms are left unattended, they will naturally revert back to a normal state.
Synthorx hasn’t been that vocal about what they’ve been up to, having issued just 2 press releases to date. One can imagine though that their team of scientists is working feverishly to establish a patent portfolio to protect this grand accomplishment. Synthorx will most likely take the “Intel inside” approach, and license their platform to various companies who will then contribute the high-cost R&D needed to develop and commercialize products. Intrexon (XON) has used this business model successfully which they refer to as “Exclusive Channel Collaborations”. Synthorx isn’t burning through much cash, and with their first funding round expected to last them well into 2017, don’t expect to see an IPO from this company any time soon.
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