The Ansa Biotechnologies co-founders (L-R): Jared Ellefson, Daniel Arlow and Sebastian Palluk

‘Don’t want to fuss with this stuff’: An­oth­er DNA syn­the­sis start­up reels in fund­ing

The way DNA is syn­the­sized has changed rel­a­tive­ly lit­tle dur­ing the biotech rev­o­lu­tion of the past four decades. Chem­i­cal DNA syn­the­sis has been the pre­dom­i­nant method, but it comes with lim­i­ta­tions, most no­tably er­rors or le­sions that dam­age the DNA af­ter many cy­cles and cause it to be short­er in length and less ac­cu­rate.

So, Ansa Biotech­nolo­gies wants to shake up the game with a method its founders think can skirt ex­ist­ing hur­dles and speed up the process. To do so, the Emeryville, CA start­up picked up $68 mil­lion in Se­ries A funds Mon­day to bring its DNA syn­the­sis ser­vices to mar­ket and scale up its R&D in a field dom­i­nat­ed by Twist Bio­science, a $2.5 bil­lion mar­ket cap com­pa­ny that’s part­nered with the likes of Take­da and Gink­go Bioworks.

“The promise of what we’re do­ing, us­ing en­zymes, is that all the re­ac­tions take place un­der com­plete­ly mild, aque­ous con­di­tions and the en­zymes are ex­quis­ite­ly pre­cise, so it doesn’t dam­age the DNA as it’s be­ing made,” CEO Daniel Ar­low told End­points News.

Ar­low co-found­ed Ansa af­ter re­al­iz­ing how long it takes to get DNA for ex­per­i­ments while work­ing on his PhD in the lab of Jay Keasling at UC Berke­ley. He com­pared the process to com­put­er pro­gram­ming; he was a com­pu­ta­tion­al bi­ol­o­gist pri­or to grad school. Dur­ing his grad work, Ar­low met his co-founder, CTO Se­bas­t­ian Pal­luk, at the Joint BioEn­er­gy In­sti­tute.

“If pro­gram­ming on the com­put­er were this slow, if it took a month or more to re­com­pile your code every time you want to make a small change, we would nev­er get any­thing done. We wouldn’t have the in­ter­net and every­thing built on top of it,” he said.

Since a 2018 pa­per in Na­ture Biotech­nol­o­gy, the Ansa team has been work­ing on ma­tur­ing its tech­nol­o­gy. The key chal­lenge the start­up is try­ing to work through is get­ting the ter­mi­nal de­oxynu­cleotidyl trans­ferase (TdT) en­zyme to add one base at a time so they can “syn­the­size the se­quence that we want to make or that the cus­tomer wants us to make step by step.”

Ar­low de­clined to dis­close when the 35-em­ploy­ee com­pa­ny will launch its ser­vices. The com­pa­ny sees its DNA syn­the­sis be­ing ap­plied for help­ing bio­phar­mas cre­ate ad­vanced bi­o­log­ics, cell and gene ther­a­pies, an­ti­bod­ies, as well as help­ing in­dus­tri­al biotechs en­gi­neer mi­crobes. Com­pa­nies in the cul­tured meat and dairy in­dus­tries might al­so even­tu­al­ly use the ser­vice, he added.

“We are kind of still bad at en­gi­neer­ing bi­ol­o­gy. In or­der to get bet­ter at en­gi­neer­ing bi­ol­o­gy, we re­al­ly need to tight­en up this loop and go faster be­cause this is es­sen­tial­ly a se­quen­tial process of fig­ur­ing out what works,” Ar­low said.

The start­up thinks it has the “best DNA syn­the­sis method in the world,” Ar­low said. The CEO didn’t name names, but Ansa is not alone in the en­zy­mat­ic DNA syn­the­sis space. DNA Script hauled in a $165 mil­lion Se­ries C in Oc­to­ber, and an­oth­er $35 mil­lion dis­closed in Jan­u­ary, for its DNA print­er, which was launched in June 2021.

But Ansa isn’t go­ing the syn­the­siz­er print­er route. The start­up wants to go the ser­vices route to keep the process cen­tral­ized.

“The cus­tomer wants ex­act­ly the se­quence that they want, and if we cen­tral­ize the pro­duc­tion of that, we can QC [qual­i­ty con­trol] the DNA be­fore we send it out the door and make sure that we’re send­ing them ex­act­ly what they want,” Ar­low said. “If they have the print­er, the bur­den of QC is on them, and they don’t want to fuss with this stuff.”

By keep­ing the syn­the­sis in-house, rather than ship­ping off print­ers, Ansa is al­so able to screen or­ders and cus­tomers for po­ten­tial biose­cu­ri­ty risks, Ar­low said. The com­pa­ny has the abil­i­ty to flag se­quences — and not make them — if Ansa thinks it could be haz­ardous.

“This is a re­al­ly pow­er­ful tech­nol­o­gy, and it’s re­al­ly im­por­tant for us to make sure that it’s used re­spon­si­bly,” Ar­low said.

The new fi­nanc­ing brings to­tal fund­ing to date to $82 mil­lion. North­pond Ven­tures led the round with new in­vestors RA Cap­i­tal, Blue Wa­ter Life Sci­ence Ad­vi­sors, Al­ti­tude Life Sci­ence Ad­vi­sors, Fis­cus Ven­tures, PEAK6 Strate­gic Cap­i­tal, Car­bon Sil­i­con, and Codon Cap­i­tal. Ex­ist­ing back­ers Mubadala Cap­i­tal, Hum­boldt Fund, Fifty Years and Hori­zons Ven­tures al­so took part.

This sto­ry has been up­dat­ed to clar­i­fy the tim­ing of DNA Script’s DNA print­er launch.

Has the mo­ment fi­nal­ly ar­rived for val­ue-based health­care?

RBC Capital Markets’ Healthcare Technology Analyst, Sean Dodge, spotlights a new breed of tech-enabled providers who are rapidly transforming the way clinicians deliver healthcare, and explores the key question: can this accelerating revolution overturn the US healthcare system?

Key points

Tech-enabled healthcare providers are poised to help the US transition to value, not volume, as the basis for reward.
The move to value-based care has policy momentum, but is risky and complex for clinicians.
Outsourced tech specialists are emerging to provide the required expertise, while healthcare and tech are also converging through M&A.
Value-based care remains in its early stages, but the transition is accelerating and represents a huge addressable market.

Lat­est on ul­tra-rare dis­ease ap­proval; Pos­i­tive, if mixed, signs for Bio­gen's ALS drug; Clay Sie­gall finds a new job; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

Over the last four years, we’ve honored 80 women whose extraordinary accomplishments have changed the game in biopharma R&D. You can now nominate someone to be highlighted in this year’s special report. Details are here.

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FDA spells out how can­cer drug de­vel­op­ers can use one tri­al for both ac­cel­er­at­ed and full ap­provals

The FDA’s Oncology Center of Excellence has been a bright spot within the agency in terms of speeding new treatments to patients. That flexibility was on full display this morning as FDA released new draft guidance spelling out exactly how oncology drug developers can fulfill both the accelerated and full approval’s requirements with just a single randomized controlled trial.

While Congress recently passed legislation that will allow FDA to require confirmatory trials to be recruiting and ongoing prior to granting an accelerated approval, the agency is now making clear that the initial trial used to win the AA, if designed appropriately, can also serve as the trial for converting the accelerated approval into a full approval.

Clay Siegall, Morphimmune CEO

Up­dat­ed: Ex-Seagen chief Clay Sie­gall emerges as CEO of pri­vate biotech

Clay Siegall will be back in the CEO seat, taking the helm of a private startup working on targeted cancer therapies.

It’s been almost a year since Siegall resigned from Seagen, the biotech he co-founded and led for more than 20 years, in the wake of domestic violence allegations by his then-wife. His eventual successor, David Epstein, sold the company to Pfizer in a $43 billion deal unveiled last week.

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FDA ad­vi­sors unan­i­mous­ly rec­om­mend ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval for Bio­gen's ALS drug

A panel of outside advisors to the FDA unanimously recommended that the agency grant accelerated approval to Biogen’s ALS drug tofersen despite the drug failing the primary goal of its Phase III study, an endorsement that could pave a path forward for the treatment.

By a 9-0 vote, members of the Peripheral and Central Nervous System Drugs Advisory Committee said there was sufficient evidence that tofersen’s effect on a certain protein associated with ALS is reasonably likely to predict a benefit for patients. But panelists stopped short of advocating for a full approval, voting 3-5 against (with one abstention) and largely citing the failed pivotal study.

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Mark Womack, BioCina CEO

Q&A: BioCi­na’s new CEO Mark Wom­ack on the CD­MO he says is 'worth trav­el­ing over'

A handful of CDMOs have made changes at the top over the past few weeks, including Genezen and Curia.

That also includes Australian CDMO BioCina, which announced last week that Mark Womack would be taking the helm. Womack previously served as chief business officer at AGC Biologics, CEO of Indian manufacturer Stelis Biopharma and most recently, CEO at CDMO KBI Biopharma and Selexis SA.

BioCina completed the takeover of a Pfizer manufacturing facility in Adelaide in 2021 and is now prepping for wider growth. Endpoints News sat down with Womack to discuss his new role, plans for the future, and how to compete in the wider CDMO market. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

No­vo Nordisk oral semaglu­tide tri­al shows re­duc­tion in blood sug­ar, plus weight loss

Novo Nordisk is testing higher levels of its oral version of its GLP-1, semaglutide, and its type 2 diabetes trial results released today show reductions in blood sugar as well as weight loss.

In the Phase IIIb trial, Novo compared its oral semaglutide in 25 mg and 50 mg doses with the 14 mg version that’s currently the maximum approved dose. The trial looked at how the doses compared when added to a stable dose of one to three oral antidiabetic medicines in people with type 2 diabetes who were in need of an intensified treatment.

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Ly­me vac­cine test com­ple­tion is pushed back by a year as Pfiz­er, Val­ne­va say they'll ad­just tri­al

Valneva and Pfizer have adjusted the end date for the Phase III study of their investigational Lyme disease vaccine, pushing it back by a year after issues at a contract researcher led to thousands of US patients being dropped from the test.

In a March 20 update to, Valneva and Pfizer moved the primary completion date on the trial, called VALOR, from the end of 2024 to the end of 2025.

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Stuart Peltz, former PTC Therapeutics CEO

Stu­art Peltz re­signs as PTC Ther­a­peu­tics CEO af­ter 25 years

Stuart Peltz, the longtime CEO of PTC Therapeutics who’s led the rare disease drug developer since its founding 25 years ago, is stepping down.

Succeeding him in the top job is Matthew Klein, who joined PTC in 2019 and was promoted to chief operating officer in 2022. In a call with analysts, he said the CEO transition has been planned for “quite some time” — in fact, as part of it, he gave the company’s presentation at the JP Morgan healthcare conference earlier this year.

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