Ginkgo BioWorks picks up antibiotics effort with Roche where Warp Drive Bio left off

When Revolution Medicines absorbed fellow Third Rock startup Warp Drive Bio into its operations last October — then newly transitioned from antifungal to oncology — the exec team was still reviewing options for the genome mining platform, which was the subject of a deal with Roche.

Jason Kelly

They found a buyer in Ginkgo BioWorks, a specialist in engineering customized microbes that has so far focused on food and agriculture. The Boston-based company plans to integrate Warp Drive’s database of microbial genome, as well as its search engine, with its own tech in pursuit of new classes of antibiotics. Financials were not disclosed.

While it’s previously signed a collaboration with synthetic biology player Synlogic, this deal represents the kind of high-profile maneuvers that can put Ginkgo on the therapeutics map, CEO Jason Kelly told Forbes. If it can bring antibiotic candidates into the clinic, Ginkgo stands to receive $160 million out of the $300 million Roche committed in development and potential sales milestones when the pharma giant’s pRED organization first tied up with Warp Drive in 2017, featuring $87 million in upfront.

“Bringing Warp Drive Bio’s deep expertise in genomics-based natural products discovery to Ginkgo’s codebase is the key to unlocking new products, like novel antibiotics that can help combat the rise of antibiotic-resistant diseases,” Kelly said in a statement.

Mark Goldsmith

It is by no means a sure thing. Roche is the last Big Pharma (along with GlaxoSmithKline) standing in a field deemed too risky and unprofitable for major R&D efforts. And recent financial struggles of biotechs that have successfully brought new drugs to the market — such as Achaogen and Melinta — have only reinforced that notion.

In its six years as an independent entity, Warp Drive Bio did not bring any drugs to the clinic.

The team — 43 at last count — will now move to Ginkgo’s headquarters in Boston’s Seaport District, their genomic sequence collection and bioinformatics software in tow.

With that, Revolution can turn all its attention to the discovery and development of small molecule therapeutics “designed to precisely inhibit the activity of frontier targets within the notorious oncogenic RAS pathway.”

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