Synthetic biology. It sounds like something from a sci-fi movie, or an oxymoron like jumbo shrimp or clearly confused. After all, biology is the study of living organisms. And synthetic means made by chemical synthesis, especially to imitate a natural product. But synthetic biology has real potential to replace costly or unsustainable manufacturing processes and solve pressing global challenges, and Ginkgo Bioworks is on it.
We got wind that Massachusetts-based Ginkgo Bioworks, referred to as “the organism company,” that is using advanced biotechnology to grow products instead of manufacturing them, got a Series E financing round of $290 million bringing the company’s total funding to $719 million. You got that right, $719 million total. This will help Ginkgo accelerate widespread adoption of synthetic biology, including new partnerships with startup accelerators Y Combinator and Petri.
Even better, in a Digest exclusive interview, we have the latest on their key milestones this year as well as insight on Ginkgo’s long-term plans and vision.
The $290 million details
First, a bit about the financing from Ginkgo Biowork’s press release, “The latest round of funding will be used to further expand the reach of Ginkgo’s platform for cell programming, enabling greater access to the expertise, scale, resources, and technology needed to effectively harness the power of biology.” The latest financing included participation from all existing major investors and other new investors including funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc.
“Today’s funding will propel Ginkgo’s platform and enable its team of experienced organism engineers to unlock the full potential of biological engineering and deliver transformative technologies with far-reaching impact.”
Most recently, Ginkgo established itself as a home for early-stage startups and entrepreneurs to build their biotech businesses. Through two new partnerships with Y Combinator and Petri, startups can access Ginkgo’s platform and mentorship in exchange for equity. With access to Ginkgo, startups will now have a pathway to bring bold, world-changing ideas to fruition.
“Cells are programmable similar to computers because they run on digital code in the form of DNA,” said Jason Kelly, CEO and co-founder of Ginkgo Bioworks. “We believe Ginkgo has the best compiler and debugger for writing genetic code and we use it to program cells for customers in a range of industries. Today’s fundraise will allow us to expand our technology and continue our drive to bring biology into every physical goods industry – materials, clothing, electronics, food, pharmaceuticals, and more. They are all biotech industries but just don’t know it yet.”
A bit of history
In the past two years, Ginkgo has grown through large partnerships across major industries, including a $122M deal to produce cultured cannabinoids with Cronos, a partnership with Roche for up to $160M to discover novel antibiotics, and an $80M investment in Synlogic to accelerate the development of living medicines. Last year, Ginkgo also launched its second spinout company, Motif Foodworks, with $117 million in funding, to address the need for better alternative proteins; this followed the launch of Joyn Bio in 2017 to bring more sustainable practices to the agriculture industry.
As reported in The Digest in October 2018, Genomatica expanded its relationship with Ginkgo to accelerate biotechnology innovations for widely-used chemicals. Ginkgo would provide expanded access to their foundry capabilities and services, while increasing its equity stake in Genomatica.
“Genomatica has delivered high-volume bio-based chemicals to market at costs competitive with petrochemical production, not just once but multiple times,” said Jason Kelly, CEO of Ginkgo Bioworks back in October 2018. “We’re doubling down on renewable chemicals through our close relationship with Genomatica – and we’re honored to continue to partner with the best in the market.”
Going a little further back in time to 2017, Ginkgo BioWorks took the #1 spot in the 2017-18 “40 Hottest Emerging Companies in the Advanced Bioeconomy” rankings (and still an impressive #3 this year).
Ginkgo’s latest projects
In a Digest exclusive interview, a Ginkgo Bioworks spokesperson said, “In the past year, Ginkgo has shown synthetic biology not only has the power to replace costly manufacturing processes, it will play a key role in reshaping the future health and well-being of society. Here are our latest projects and partnerships:
- Sept 2019 – Petri – biotech accelerator
- Sept 2019 – Y Combinator partnership
- June 2019 – Synlogic investment for living medicines
- May 15, 2019 – Warp Drive Bio genomic platform acquisition for antibiotics discovery
- February 2019 – Motif Ingredients (now branded as Motif Foodworks) – spinoff company
- November 2018 – Glycosyn partnership to scale human milk oligosaccharides
- September 2018 – Cronos partnership
When asked what their top three milestones from this year were, the spokesperson said it would definitely include when Ginkgo spun out Motif Foodworks, “a food ingredients company that will offer sustainable, animal-free ingredients for global producers in the alternative food space. The company launched with $90M in funding, the largest series A in food tech to-date, and recently raised an additional $27.5M.”
Another highlight for Ginkgo this year was when it furthered its partnership with Synlogic by making an $80M investment in the company to grow its pipeline of living medicines. “Diseases are dynamic, with fluctuating biology and symptoms, but most drugs currently on the market only have one constant level of activity to block disease,” said the spokesperson. “These traditional therapies cannot adequately address dynamic disease, and living medicines are the solution – engineered medicines that are alive and can therefore be designed via their DNA to adjust to conditions they find in the body, and sense and respond appropriately to dynamic disease biology.”
And latest but not least, “Antibiotic resistance is a growing problem across the world that endangers thousands of people and threatens modern medicine,” said the spokesperson. “Earlier this year, Ginkgo acquired Warp Drive Bio’s genome mining platform and continued to advance the partnership with Roche to discover and develop novel classes of antibiotics. This effort is hugely important in solving the urgent, global problem of drug-resistant bacterial infections.”
What does the future hold for Ginkgo Bioworks? In the Digest exclusive interview, Ginkgo’s spokesperson said, “In addition to constantly innovating and developing Ginkgo’s core competencies in their foundries and DNA code-base, Ginkgo is also committed to identifying and enabling emerging technologies in the synbio space that can help Ginkgo in its mission to make biology easier to engineer — and move the entire biotech industry forward. It’s becoming increasingly clear just how broad the potential applications of synbio are: from food and agriculture, consumer goods, biodefense, pharmaceuticals and more. Ginkgo is always seeking out and expanding on its work across verticals in an effort to realize synbio’s full potential.”
And where does it see itself in five years? “Ginkgo Bioworks’ mission is to make biology easier to engineer so that we can use biology as the medium for advancing solutions to today’s unsolved global challenges,” said the spokesperson. “While software has shaped the world, we know it today, biology will be the next technical revolution that empowers us with sustainability, efficacy and economics at the forefront. By tapping into nature’s most advanced and powerful code — DNA — Ginkgo aims to address unsolved global challenges and create a more sustainable world by growing everything.”
The huge Series E financing news is major and with a $719M total in financing we can’t wait to see where Ginkgo goes next. They are taking what some consider to be a boring high school science class, biology, and turning it into something of extreme intrigue, potential and influence. If you’re interested in learning more, Ginkgo is hosting their second annual meeting, Ginkgo Ferment, on October 10 in Boston and you can visit their website here.