Prominent players in the UK’s thriving synbio sector

  • Posted on 10 October, 2017

As of October 2017, the global synthetic biology industry has received $867M in venture capital, public funding, and grants raised in 2017[1] compared to the 2016 total of $900M[2]. Additionally, the global synthetic biology market is expected to exceed $45Bn by 2021[3]. This market growth is mirrored by the rising number of synthetic biology start-ups enriching the sector: the UK produced more than 146 synbio start-ups between 2000 and 2016[4], evidencing a growing and vibrant synbio ecosystem. As an enabling technology, synthetic biology is transforming many industrial sectors including: Pharma/Biotech, Chemicals, AgriTech, Tools & Services. This can be seen in the wide variety of pioneering companies in this sector.

Here, SynbiCITE looks at some of the companies leading the way in UK synthetic biology, creating innovative new technologies and driving the growth of the UK bioeconomy.

Synpromics – Kick-starting the growth of Gene Medicine

Synpromics develops and commercialises synthetic promoters, which control the expression of particular human or non-human genes, and have a range of uses, including biotechnology manufacturing and gene therapy. Synpromics is expanding rapidly to meet increasing global demand for its cutting-edge gene control technology, growing its team by over 100% in recent years and moving into new world-class facilities at the Roslin Innovation Centre in September 2017. The Company has also developed PromPT™, its proprietary synthetic promoter development platform, utilising a multi-dimensional bioinformatics database, to enable product-specific promoter design and selection. In April 2017, Synpromics closed a £5.2M round of investment, led by Calculus Capital, which brings the total private funds raised to £7.83M since it started in 2010.

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Oxitec – Innovation that changes lives

Oxitec is a pioneer in controlling insects that spread disease and damage crops, sustainably and cost effectively protecting human health and increasing food production across the globe. Oxitec has engineered a self-limiting strain of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, repeated release of which reduces the wild population to below the level needed to transmit diseases such as Zika and Dengue. Over 725,000 people are killed by mosquito bites each year, while Dengue fever infects approximately 400 million people annually. Oxitec’s technology can help; five efficacy trials have taken place demonstrating that its mosquitoes reduce the wild population by more > 90%. Oxitec was spun-out of Oxford University in 2002, raising over £27.5M in private funding, before being acquired by Intrexon (NYSE:XON) for $160M in 2015.

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Synthace – International recognition and support from leading investors

Synthace is developing Antha, a language and software platform specifically for biology, bringing end-to-end digitisation to biotechnology, replacing current artisanal methods of development. Antha is designed to make reproducible and scalable workflows that can be readily edited and shared, and easily automated on labs’ existing equipment. In 2016, the World Economic Forum included Synthace in its selection of the world’s 30 most promising Technology Pioneers that are helping shape the Fourth Industrial Revolution. In September 2017 Synthace closed a Series A round of £7.3M, to bring the total raised to £11.4M since it was spun-out of UCL in 2011. This recent funding is to be directed towards expanding the rapidly growing ecosystem of biologists, manufacturers, suppliers, software developers and cloud providers adopting Antha as the connecting platform for biotechnology.

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Oxford Genetics – Extending reach to across the pond

Oxford Genetics is a leader in innovative synthetic biology-based technologies, creating transformative systems and services to aid in the discovery and development of biologics, and cell and gene therapies. As of September 2017, the Oxford-based company will expand to the USA, opening its first overseas office in the Cambridge district of Boston. This global expansion follows the company’s latest successful round of financing in which it secured a £7.5M investment, bringing the total amount raised to £10.7M since 2011. This latest investment will support the company’s 6,000-sq. ft. expansion of its U.K. facility at Oxford Science Park.

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Sphere Fluidics – Time is of the essence

Sphere Fluidics has developed a biochip system that automatically process millions-billions of miniaturised tests in pico-droplets, offering rapid screening and characterisation of single cells. This technology increases the chance of finding that ‘one-in-a-billion’ molecule or cell that could be an industry blockbuster, making the development of new biopharmaceuticals faster and more cost-effective, improving monoclonal antibody screening, and enhance research efficiency. In drug discovery, as with any industry, time is money, both in research and production – Sphere Fluidics technology can buy you time. Founded in 2010, Sphere Fluidics has raised £10.8M in total and £2.22M in 2017 in private fund raising.

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Customem – the new kid on the block

Customem have developed a novel, bio-based, adsorbent material – CustoMem granular media (CGM) – that can selectively capture micro-pollutants including pesticides, pharmaceuticals and high-performance chemicals. This enables users to meet increasingly stringent wastewater regulations and protects the ecosystem. CGM can rapidly capture micro-pollutants (>90% in ~10 seconds), and production and treatment operation are low energy. Despite being founded just 3 years ago, in 2014, the company is going from strength to strength; in July 2017, they won the £100K 1st prize in the annual Bio-start competition. This is one to watch.

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Autolus – money talks

Autolus is a private, clinical-stage, biopharmaceutical company, focused on the development and commercialisation of engineered T-cell immunotherapy products to combat cancer. Utilising its advanced cell programming and manufacturing technologies, Autolus has a pipeline of products in development for the treatment of both haematological malignancies and solid tumours. In September 2017 they closed on a US$80 million Series C funding round, resulting in £130M of private investment raised since it was spun-out of UCL in 2014. The proceeds of this fund raising will be used to establish clinical proof of concept for three novel haematological cancer programmes.

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[4] UK Synthetic Biology Start-up Survey, 2017, SynbiCITE