UP­DAT­ED: Hav­ing shipped its first bench­top gene edit­ing de­vices, In­scrip­ta draws an­oth­er $150M from deep in­vestor well

In­scrip­ta is one big step clos­er to reach­ing its am­bi­tious vi­sion of vast­ly scal­ing and de­moc­ra­tiz­ing ac­cess to gene edit­ing. And in­vestors have thrown in $150 mil­lion more to join the ride.

Sri Kosara­ju

The first batch of Onyx, its bench­top sys­tem for genome en­gi­neer­ing, has been shipped to cus­tomers, the com­pa­ny said, en­abling sci­en­tists to con­duct au­to­mat­ed high-through­put gene edit­ing on a ma­chine about the size of a mi­crowave.

Rather than serv­ing one par­tic­u­lar pur­pose, CEO Sri Kosara­ju said the Se­ries E “(val­i­dates) our con­fi­dence in the ad­di­tion­al ar­eas where we think our tech­nol­o­gy can cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties” and will sup­port In­scrip­ta for the long term. Fi­deli­ty and T. Rowe Price led the round, joined by D1 Cap­i­tal Part­ners and Durable Cap­i­tal Part­ners as well as ex­ist­ing in­vestors Fore­site Cap­i­tal, Coun­ter­point Glob­al and JS Cap­i­tal.

Kosara­ju points to two key ap­pli­ca­tion ar­eas that are al­ready emerg­ing for the tech­nol­o­gy: The first is genome dis­cov­ery, where sci­en­tists can un­der­stand the un­char­ac­ter­ized re­gions of genomes by cre­at­ing more vari­a­tions and study­ing them; the oth­er is for­ward en­gi­neer­ing — de­sign­ing cer­tain func­tions for agri­cul­ture, cos­met­ic or ther­a­peu­tic pur­pos­es.

An ear­ly play­er in the boom­ing syn­thet­ic bi­ol­o­gy field, In­scrip­ta’s grand rhetoric echoes peers like Gink­go and Zymer­gen: “We do for genome edit­ing what Il­lu­mi­na did for genome read­ing,” for­mer chief Kevin Ness told End­points News be­fore hand­ing over to Kosara­ju.

Both are fa­mil­iar with the se­quenc­ing world: Ness had co-found­ed test­ing equip­ment mak­er 10x Ge­nomics, where Kosara­ju served on the board of di­rec­tors.

In Onyx, they be­lieve they have a tool in hand that would al­low sci­en­tists to gain ready ac­cess to what they call the “bioe­con­o­my,” edit­ing genomes eas­i­ly rather than re­ly­ing on com­pa­nies with large fa­cil­i­ties.

A bi­ol­o­gist with the plat­form can se­lect the genes they want to knock out from In­scrip­ta’s com­put­er in­ter­face. In­scrip­ta then cre­ates the agents to knock out those genes at their man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­i­ty and sends them to the bi­ol­o­gist’s lab. The bi­ol­o­gist ap­plies those agents to the cell lines, cre­at­ing thou­sands of dif­fer­ent lines that are “bar-cod­ed.” The bi­ol­o­gist can run what­ev­er ex­per­i­ment — ex­pos­ing them to a drug, say, or an agent — and the In­scrip­ta tech can see which cell lines sur­vived.

Since clos­ing its Se­ries D in 2019, Kosara­ju not­ed, In­scrip­ta has run a num­ber of in­ter­nal tests as well as col­lect­ing feed­back from a be­ta cus­tomer.

“So we have over 100 runs now with this in­stru­ment which has giv­en us a lot more con­fi­dence as we ship our first unit,” he said.

Key to that whole work­flow is MAD7, a syn­thet­ic en­zyme In­scrip­ta has billed as an al­ter­na­tive to Cas9 that’s free for sci­en­tif­ic re­search, with­out the li­cens­ing fee tied to the orig­i­nal CRISPR mol­e­cule.

For now the de­vice, which sells for $347,000, is lim­it­ed to edit­ing E. coli and S. cere­visi­ae, but In­scrip­ta is eye­ing mam­malian cells for fu­ture ma­chines down the road.

It’s still ear­ly in the process of fig­ur­ing out where their first sys­tem is the most valu­able, Kosara­ju said. So while they ac­knowl­edge the “ro­bust” IPO mar­ket — Zymer­gen has al­ready jumped in, and Gink­go is re­port­ed plot­ting a list­ing — he’s in no rush.

“The thing we’ve learned is there are a lot of ad­van­tages to build­ing the com­pa­ny and hav­ing ma­tu­ri­ty and vis­i­bil­i­ty be­fore you go pub­lic,” he said.

Health­care Dis­par­i­ties and Sick­le Cell Dis­ease

In the complicated U.S. healthcare system, navigating a serious illness such as cancer or heart disease can be remarkably challenging for patients and caregivers. When that illness is classified as a rare disease, those challenges can become even more acute. And when that rare disease occurs in a population that experiences health disparities, such as people with sickle cell disease (SCD) who are primarily Black and Latino, challenges can become almost insurmountable.

The End­points 11: They've got mad mon­ey and huge am­bi­tions. It's time to go big or go home

These days, selecting a group of private biotechs for the Endpoints 11 spotlight begins with a sprint to get ahead of IPOs and the M&A teams at Big Pharma. I’ve had a couple of faceplants earlier this year, watching some of the biotechs on my short list choose a quick leap onto Nasdaq or into the arms of a buyer.

Vividion, you would have been a great pick for the Endpoints 11. I’m sorry I missed you.

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Dave Lennon, former president of Novartis Gene Therapies

So what hap­pened with No­var­tis Gene Ther­a­pies? Here's your an­swer

Over the last couple of days it’s become clear that the gene therapy division at Novartis has quietly undergone a major reorganization. We learned on Monday that Dave Lennon, who had pursued a high-profile role as president of the unit with 1,500 people, had left the pharma giant to take over as CEO of a startup.

Like a lot of the majors, Novartis is an open highway for head hunters, or anyone looking to staff a startup. So that was news but not completely unexpected.

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Jacob Van Naarden (Eli Lilly)

Ex­clu­sives: Eli Lil­ly out to crash the megablock­buster PD-(L)1 par­ty with 'dis­rup­tive' pric­ing; re­veals can­cer biotech buy­out

It’s taken 7 years, but Eli Lilly is promising to finally start hammering the small and affluent PD-(L)1 club with a “disruptive” pricing strategy for their checkpoint therapy allied with China’s Innovent.

Lilly in-licensed global rights to sintilimab a year ago, building on the China alliance they have with Innovent. That cost the pharma giant $200 million in cash upfront, which they plan to capitalize on now with a long-awaited plan to bust up the high-price market in lung cancer and other cancers that have created a market worth tens of billions of dollars.

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Who are the women su­per­charg­ing bio­phar­ma R&D? Nom­i­nate them for this year's spe­cial re­port

The biotech industry has faced repeated calls to diversify its workforce — and in the last year, those calls got a lot louder. Though women account for just under half of all biotech employees around the world, they occupy very few places in C-suites, and even fewer make it to the helm.

Some companies are listening, according to a recent BIO survey which showed that this year’s companies were 2.5 times more likely to have a diversity and inclusion program compared to last year’s sample. But we still have a long way to go. Women represent just 31% of biotech executives, BIO reported. And those numbers are even more stark for women of color.

Maureen Hillenmeyer, Hexagon Bio CEO

Hexa­gon Bio rais­es $61M to con­tin­ue ef­forts to turn fun­gi in­to drugs

A year after raising a $47 million launch round, the fungi-loving drug hunters at Hexagon Bio have more than doubled their coffers.

Hexagon announced today that it raised another $61 million for its efforts to design cancer and infectious disease drugs based on insights mined from the DNA in millions of species of fungi. The new financing brings Hexagon’s committed funding to over $108 million.

FDA+ roundup: Bs­U­FA III ready for show­time, court tells FDA to re-work com­pound­ing plan, new guid­ance up­dates and more

The FDA has now spelled out what exactly will be included in the third iteration of Biosimilar User Fee Act (BsUFA) from 2023 through 2027, which similarly to the prescription drug deal, sets fees that industry has to pay for submitting applications, in exchange for firm timelines that the agency must meet.

This latest deal includes several sweeteners for the biosimilar industry, which has yet to make great strides in the US market, with shorter review timelines for safety labeling updates and updates to add or remove an indication that does not contain efficacy data.

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Jean Bennett (Brent N. Clarke/Invision/AP Images)

Lux­tur­na in­ven­tor Jean Ben­nett starts a new gene ther­a­py com­pa­ny to tack­le rare dis­eases left be­hind by phar­ma, VCs

A few years ago Jean Bennett found herself in a surprising place for a woman who invented the first gene therapy ever approved in the United States: No one, it seemed, wanted her work.

Bennett, who designed and co-developed Luxturna, approved in 2018 for a rare form of blindness, had kept building new gene therapies for eye diseases at her University of Pennsylvania lab. But although the results in animals looked promising, pharma companies and investors kept turning down the pedigreed ophthalmology professor.

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David Meek, new Mirati CEO (Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Fresh off Fer­Gene's melt­down, David Meek takes over at Mi­rati with lead KRAS drug rac­ing to an ap­proval

In the insular world of biotech, a spectacular failure can sometimes stay on any executive’s record for a long time. But for David Meek, the man at the helm of FerGene’s recent implosion, two questionable exits made way for what could be an excellent rebound.

Meek, most recently FerGene’s CEO and a past head at Ipsen, has become CEO at Mirati Therapeutics, taking the reins from founding CEO Charles Baum, who will step over into the role of president and head of R&D, according to a release.