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.
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.