Michael Kamdar, Molecular Assemblies CEO

With a new method to syn­the­size DNA, San Diego's Mol­e­c­u­lar As­sem­blies notch­es $24M Se­ries A

A San Diego biotech is tak­ing a clos­er look at the way syn­thet­ic DNA is en­gi­neered, aim­ing to po­ten­tial­ly re­vamp the decades-old process and serve as a part­ner to com­pa­nies with­out the re­sources to cre­ate the DNA them­selves.

And now they have sig­nif­i­cant in­vestor back­ing to do so. Mol­e­c­u­lar As­sem­blies closed an over­sub­scribed Se­ries A on Thurs­day morn­ing, lock­ing down $24 mil­lion in the round to ad­vance their syn­thet­ic bi­ol­o­gy plat­form.

The big idea here start­ed more than 30 years ago, when Mol­e­c­u­lar As­sem­blies’ co-founder J. William Ef­cav­itch helped com­mer­cial­ize the first method of syn­the­siz­ing DNA through a chem­i­cal-based method at an­oth­er com­pa­ny. Though it en­abled growth in bio­phar­ma, the method uti­lized ma­te­ri­als that caused waste is­sues and dam­aged the DNA even as it pro­duced the nu­cleotides.

Not on­ly is this process cum­ber­some and ex­pen­sive, it’s still the pri­ma­ry way in which com­pa­nies cre­ate DNA for ther­a­peu­tic pur­pos­es, CEO Michael Kam­dar told End­points News. Where Mol­e­c­u­lar As­sem­blies, found­ed in 2013, hopes to step in is with a new tech­nique to syn­the­size DNA strands while cut­ting down on costs and the tox­ic waste.

Their goal is to es­sen­tial­ly cre­ate DNA in the same way the body makes it, and re­searchers have de­vel­oped a two-step, aque­ous ap­proach. It can de­liv­er high­ly-pure, se­quence-spe­cif­ic DNA on de­mand, Kam­dar said, and do so with­out a tem­plate.

It can scale to longer DNA se­quences, some­thing Kam­dar said he be­lieves can be a “game-chang­er” in the are­na. Where­as the old method can be lim­it­ed to short­er DNA strands of about 70 to 75 nu­cleotides and more nar­row ap­pli­ca­tions, Mol­e­c­u­lar As­sem­blies says their process can cre­ate strands of 150 nu­cleotides or longer.

Ul­ti­mate­ly, the com­pa­ny as­pires to get to a point where their cus­tomers are ask­ing for DNA strands that are as long as genes — 1,500 nu­cleotides.

“We’re go­ing to be the ink in all the print­ers,” Kam­dar told End­points. “If a ther­a­peu­tic or biotech­nol­o­gy com­pa­ny needs DNA to ad­vance their ef­forts in CRISPR, or ad­vance their ef­forts in CAR-T, or ad­vance their ef­forts in vac­cines, we can be the ink in that ap­proach. And then what they de­vel­op be­comes the fin­ished prod­uct that you see go­ing to pa­tients.”

There are a host of ap­pli­ca­tions for these types of long DNA, rang­ing from ther­a­peu­tics and agri­cul­ture to da­ta stor­age, Kam­dar said. Right now, though, the com­pa­ny is fo­cus­ing on its work with part­ners. Last year, Mol­e­c­u­lar As­sem­blies signed on­to a deal with Codex­is, cou­pling their syn­thet­ic DNA tech­nol­o­gy with Codex­is’ pro­tein en­gi­neer­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties. That deal has served as a sort of proof-of-con­cept, Kam­dar said, il­lus­trat­ing that the tech works to pro­duce pure, long DNA strands.

Thurs­day’s fi­nanc­ing al­so comes about a month af­ter Mol­e­c­u­lar As­sem­blies signed on to a DARPA project for DNA- and RNA-based vac­cines and ther­a­pies. Led by GE re­search, the ini­tia­tive aims to cre­ate a mo­bile, on-de­mand plat­form that can be de­ployed to re­gions ex­posed to dis­ease. Mod­er­na is al­so in­volved in the pro­gram, the gov­ern­ment says.

Next up is work­ing to­ward more part­ner­ships with biotechs, and Kam­dar says they in­tend to forge some new al­liances over the next 12 to 18 months. The com­pa­ny has seen in­ter­est from those fo­cused on gene ther­a­py, but Mol­e­c­u­lar As­sem­blies is look­ing at sev­er­al po­ten­tial ap­pli­ca­tions.

In­vestors in­volved in the raise in­clud­ed Ag­i­lent Tech­nolo­gies, iS­e­lect Fund, Codex­is, Alexan­dria Ven­ture In­vest­ments, and Arg­onau­tic Ven­tures. In ad­di­tion, LYFE Cap­i­tal joined the syn­di­cate.

Biotech Half­time Re­port: Af­ter a bumpy year, is biotech ready to re­bound?

The biotech sector has come down firmly from the highs of February as negative sentiment takes hold. The sector had a major boost of optimism from the success of the COVID-19 vaccines, making investors keenly aware of the potential of biopharma R&D engines. But from early this year, clinical trial, regulatory and access setbacks have reminded investors of the sector’s inherent risks.

RBC Capital Markets recently surveyed investors to take the temperature of the market, a mix of specialists/generalists and long-only/ long-short investment strategies. Heading into the second half of the year, investors mostly see the sector as undervalued (49%), a large change from the first half of the year when only 20% rated it as undervalued. Around 41% of investors now believe that biotech will underperform the S&P500 in the second half of 2021. Despite that view, 54% plan to maintain their position in the market and 41% still plan to increase their holdings.

Covid-19 vac­cine boost­ers earn big thumbs up, but Mod­er­na draws ire over world sup­ply; What's next for Mer­ck’s Covid pill?; The C-suite view on biotech; 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.

You may remember that at the beginning of this year, Endpoints News set a goal to go broader and deeper. We are still working towards that, and are excited to share that Beth Snyder Bulik will be joining us on Monday to cover all things pharma marketing. You can sign up for her weekly Endpoints MarketingRx newsletter in your reader profile.

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No­var­tis de­vel­op­ment chief John Tsai: 'We go deep in the new plat­form­s'

During our recent European Biopharma Summit, I talked with Novartis development chief John Tsai about his experiences over the 3-plus years he’s been at the pharma giant. You can read the transcript below or listen to the exchange in the link above.

John Carroll: I followed your career for quite some time. You’ve had more than 20 years in big pharma R&D and you’ve obviously seen quite a lot. I really was curious about what it was like for you three and a half years ago when you took over as R&D chief at Novartis. Obviously a big move, a lot of changes. You went to work for the former R&D chief of Novartis, Vas Narasimhan, who had his own track record there. So what was the biggest adjustment when you went into this position?

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Roche's Tecen­triq cross­es the fin­ish line first in ad­ju­vant lung can­cer, po­ten­tial­ly kick­ing off gold rush

While falling behind the biggest PD-(L)1 drugs in terms of sales, Roche has looked to carve out a space for its Tecentriq with a growing expertise in lung cancer. The drug will now take an early lead in the sought-after adjuvant setting — but competitors are on the way.

The FDA on Friday approved Tecentriq as an adjuvant therapy for patients with Stage II-IIIA non small cell lung cancer with PD-(L)1 scores greater than or equal to 1, making it the first drug of its kind approved in an early setting that covers around 40% of all NSCLC patients.

Amit Etkin, Alto Neuroscience CEO (Alto via Vimeo)

A star Stan­ford pro­fes­sor leaves his lab for a start­up out to re­make psy­chi­a­try

About five years ago, Amit Etkin had a breakthrough.

The Stanford neurologist, a soft-spoken demi-prodigy who became a professor while still a resident, had been obsessed for a decade with how to better define psychiatric disorders. Drugs for depression or bipolar disorder didn’t work for many patients with the conditions, and he suspected the reason was how traditional diagnoses didn’t actually get at the heart of what was going on in a patient’s brain.

Susan Galbraith, Executive VP, Oncology R&D, AstraZeneca

As­traZeneca on­col­o­gy R&D chief Su­san Gal­braith: 'Y­ou're go­ing to need or­thog­o­nal com­bi­na­tion­s'

 

Earlier in the week we broadcast our 4th annual European Biopharma Summit with a great lineup of top execs. One of the one-on-one conversations I set up was with Susan Galbraith, the oncology research chief at AstraZeneca. In a wide-ranging discussion, Galbraith reviewed the cancer drug pipeline and key trends influencing development work at the pharma giant. You can watch the video, above, or stick with the script below. — JC

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Yao-Chang Xu, Abbisko Therapeutics founder and CEO

Qim­ing-backed Ab­bisko makes $200M+ Hong Kong de­but, as a SPAC and Agenus spin­out al­so price on Nas­daq

Three new entities priced their public debuts late Thursday and early Friday, including a SPAC, a traditional Nasdaq IPO and a Chinese biotech joining the Hong Kong Index.

Shanghai-based Abbisko Therapeutics raised the most money of the triumvirate, garnering $226 million in its Hong Kong debut and pricing at HK$12.46, or roughly $1.60 in US dollars. The blank check company followed up with a $150 million raise, while MiNK Therapeutics priced on Nasdaq at $12 per share and a $40 million raise.

Paul Grayson, Tentarix CEO (Versant)

Phar­ma vet­er­ans re­group with $50M and a plan to dis­cov­er new mul­ti-specifics

While a horde of drugmakers develops bispecific antibodies to more directly target tumor cells — there were about 100 programs in or nearing clinical trials back in May — a new company is emerging to go one step further.

On Thursday, Tentarix Biotherapeutics unveiled a $50 million Series A round to support its next-gen multi-specifics platform. While the field has largely focused on bispecifics, which engage two targets, Tentarix believes its multifunctional programs have the potential to be even more specific, since more conditions must be met for potent activity to occur.

Tillman Gerngross, Adagio CEO

Q&A: Till­man Gern­gross ex­plains why his Covid mAb will have an edge over an al­ready crowd­ed field

If anyone knows about monoclonal antibodies, it’s serial entrepreneur, Adimab CEO, and Dartmouth professor of bioengineering Tillman Gerngross.

Even the name of Gerngross’ new antibody startup Adagio Therapeutics is meant to reflect his vision behind the development of his Covid-19 mAb: slowly, he said, explaining that “everyone else, whether it’s Regeneron, Lilly, or AstraZeneca, Vir, they all valued speed over everything.”

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