IPO Corner: Synthetic Biology

When you recall high school science, what’s one of your most prevalent memories? Ours would have to be those boxy wooden contraptions they called “lab stations” and the emergency showers that we all secretly wished would explode and ruin class. It was a simpler time… a time when the complications of biology extended to toad vivisection and the annual science fair project.

But… a lot has changed, a whole lot. Today’s students are increasingly exposed to more complicated, forward-thinking ideas at a younger age. A perfect example is synthetic biology. Once an exotic sounding advanced science, this space has become somewhat common. Common enough that high schools around the country are teaming up with organizations like the BioBuilder Educational Foundation, a world-recognized program training next gen innovators in the space.

Why, you ask? Good question. While it may seem a bit premature to expose students to these complex sciences at such a young age, nothing could be further from the truth. The world these younger people inherit will be a complex, dynamic organism with problems to solve and an onslaught of variables that will make solving those problems increasingly difficult.

Still… we haven’t fully answered what that has to do with anything. It’s this: synthetic biology isn’t a dirty phrase that alludes to wicked corporations only innovating for dollars… rather, it’s extremely complicated and more a part of our everyday lives than we realize. That’s because synthetic biology has so many possible applications that it could end up being a key to innovating our own survival, and the survival of the planet.

Pushing The Limit

To demonstrate, we’ll give you the quick and dirty rundown on some of these possibilities. But first, let’s define what it is. Synthetic biology is simply when we humans decide to tinker with biological design just a bit, redesigning organisms in useful ways for our benefit. We could quote the definition, but it includes a whole bunch of “fabrication” and “engineering” jargon… so we won’t.

What that means is we can take biological organisms, make a few adjustments to them in the lab, and set them to work at tasks that are useful. Some examples include food production, healthcare therapeutics, the mitigation of pollutants, green chemicals, energy, manufacturing, agriculture, and many more. Now that there are 8 billion souls aboard the earth ship, this is very good news.

Now, we admit… sometimes things in this space get a bit weird. But we’d like to remind everyone that getting weird is kind of what humans do. We like to experiment, and that’s how we end up with some of our best ideas. Okay, back to the story… so scientists in this field have recently garnered some extra attention because of something they whipped up in a petri dish somewhere called Xenobots. Sounds like something out of a Saturday morning cartoon, but we won’t digress.

The most amazing thing about these little guys is that they can self-replicate. Basically, tiny little biological robots that make other tiny biological robots. To make Xenobots, scientists created an algorithm that knew how to assemble cells together to build different biological machines. So, these Xenobots gather material, form it into little versions of itself, and then set those smaller versions free into the world.

Maybe the best way to think of this process is these Xenobots create clones by building them with biological materials. Besides the possibilities associated with synthetic biology in the realms of energy and pollution elimination, we think healthcare is one of the most promising applications of this technology. Scientists think we could be looking at a future where we will essentially possess molecular scissors that we can program to do our bidding inside our bodies.

Deals To Watch

This week, we’ll be looking at two early players in this space, Octant Bio and BigHat Biosciences. Octant Bio is a data-driven therapeutics company that has busted onto the scene to proclaim their place as building drugs that match the complexity of human disease. Using the most cutting-edge methodology, guided by massive datasets, Octant Bio is engineering synthetic solutions to problems that, thus far, traditional medicine has been unable to crack the code of.

This April, the firm was able to secure additional funding for their endeavors through an $80 million round of Series B funding. The monies have been put toward nurturing new pharmaceutical partnerships, with synthetic biology at the helm. The funding round was led by Catalio Capital Management, a firm with 5 IPOs under its belt just since its founding in 2020. Total capital raised now stands at $115 million, and the firm is expanding its next-generation drug discovery platform.

BigHat Biosciences is a California based biotech in the business of using machine learning and synthetic biology to develop therapies for patients. This summer, the firm was able to raise $75 million in a Series B funding round, bringing the firm’s total funding to date to $100 million. The round was led by Section 32, and was co-led by Section 32 Managing Partner Andy Harrison, who will also join as Board Observer. Participants included Bristol Myers Squibb, Quadrille Capital, and GRIDS Capital, among others, as well as a handful of prior investors.

The funds have been put to work scaling the firm’s proprietary software platform, advancing therapeutics toward human trials, ramping up R&D, and nurturing collaborations and partnerships. Founded in 2019 by Mark DePristo, BigHat builds therapeutic programs from the ground up using specially designed blueprints and antibodies. The firm boasts programs that span multiple human health domains, including infectious disease, inflammatory, and oncology.

Imagine us fighting disease at the cellular level with highly targeted techniques… no more of this “shoot and pray” medicine we’ve been practicing for eternity. As you’d imagine, there’s incredible opportunity here, as we haven’t even dreamed up all there is to dream. In hard numbers, the market will reach $55.71 billion by the close of the decade. Impressive, given it sat at just $11.88 billion this year. Come back next week, we’ll have more from the world of IPOs. See you then!