Improving Living Medicines with Synlogic

At Ginkgo, we believe that the power to program DNA will transform all industries, making technology more adaptive, efficient, and renewable. Engineering living cells has of course already revolutionized the pharma industry, from insulin-producing bacteria in the 1980s all the way to CAR-T cells today.

A few weeks ago we announced our acquisition of the Warp Drive genome mining platform and a partnership with Roche, using synthetic biology to discover novel small molecule medicines made by bacteria. Today I’m thrilled to announce an expansion of our partnership with Synlogic, who is ushering in a new paradigm for therapeutics, where the bacteria aren’t just making the medicine, they are the medicine.

Synlogic is developing an incredible platform that enables them to program probiotic bacteria to treat many different complex diseases using the power of biology. Living cells have the ability to do what chemicals can’t: they can sense and respond, they can deliver enzymes and small molecules directly where they’re needed, and they can consume and break down potentially toxic molecules before they cause any harmful effects. Today, Synlogic’s pipeline includes strains of E. coli that live in the gut and consume molecules like phenylalanine or ammonia in diseases where patients’ bodies are unable to do this on their own, leading to toxicity and neurological damage if left untreated. They also are working on engineered bacteria that can be injected directly into tumors, sending up signal flares that alert the immune system to attack the cancer cells.

As organism designers, we’re so excited by Synlogic’s vision and we’ve been so inspired by the talent and passion of the team and their ability to program cells to fight so many different diseases. Their expertise is a perfect complement to the work we do programming cells in our foundries and we’ve been collaborating successfully with Synlogic since late 2017. We’ve been thrilled by the promising early results for our first collaborative project that shows how our two companies can work together to accelerate the development of a new living medicine.

Synlogic had developed an early prototype strain for the treatment of a rare metabolic disease that was promising but had room for improvement. In our foundry, we prototyped and screened over 1000 versions of each of the three enzymes in the designed pathway, zeroing in on the sequences with the highest activity in combination. Because of the scale of our foundries to build and test so many strains, we could help Synlogic’s scientists choose the best strains with significantly improved function both in vitro and in vivo. We’ll be sharing all those details and the results from nonhuman primate studies at the SEED conference in a couple weeks.

Based off of the success of our proof of concept partnership and the enormous potential that Synlogic has in therapeutics, today we are excited to announce an expansion of our collaboration to drive new innovation in living medicines through the combined strength of Synlogic’s expertise in drug design and development and Ginkgo’s foundries for biological engineering. We are making a premium equity investment of $80M and beginning a range of new projects, expanding Synlogic’s pipeline and helping accelerate more promising candidates to the clinic.

We see living medicines as the source of many future drugs. Recombinant DNA technology first made it possible to manufacture protein-based drugs nearly forty years ago, and today a large percentage of promising new drugs are biologics. We can only imagine what might be possible in the age of living programmable medicines.

As with many of our partnerships, we’ve also worked with artist Karen Ingram to illustrate the technology and highlight the beauty of living medicines. As you take a closer look, you’ll notice several of important elements that describe the work of Synlogic and Ginkgo’s collaboration: bacteria sensing and targeting various compounds, biofilm formation, and the gut lining in the background.

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