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.

How Pa­tients with Epilep­sy Ben­e­fit from Re­al-World Da­ta

Amanda Shields, Principal Data Scientist, Scientific Data Steward

Keith Wenzel, Senior Business Operations Director

Andy Wilson, Scientific Lead

Real-world data (RWD) has the potential to transform the drug development industry’s efforts to predict and treat seizures for patients with epilepsy. Anticipating or controlling an impending seizure can significantly increase quality of life for patients with epilepsy. However, because RWD is secondary data originally collected for other purposes, the challenge is selecting, harmonizing, and analyzing the data from multiple sources in a way that helps support patients.

$DNA is once again on NYSE; FDA clears Soliris chal­lenger for the mar­ket; Flag­ship’s think­ing big again with eR­NA; 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.

I still remember the uncertainty in the air last year when nobody was sure whether ASCO would cancel their in-person meeting. But it’s now back again for the second virtual conference, and Endpoints News is here for it. Check out our 2-day event reviewing the landscape of cancer R&D and send news our way.

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Michael Dell (Richard Drew, AP Images)

'Dude, you're get­ting a Del­l' — as a new deep-pock­et biotech in­vestor

What happens when you marry longtime insiders in the global biotech VC game with the family fund of tech billionaire Michael Dell, a synthetic biology legend out of MIT and Harvard and the former director of the NCI?

Today, the answer is a newly financed, $200 million biotech SPAC now cruising the industry for a top player interested in finding a short cut to Nasdaq.

Orion Biotech Opportunities priced their blank check company today, raising $200 million with Dell’s multibillion-dollar MSD group’s commitment on investing another $20 million in a forward-purchase agreement.

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Gene ther­a­py from Bio­gen's $800M buy­out flops in mid-stage study, deal­ing blow to new am­bi­tions

The #2 candidate from Biogen’s $800 million ocular gene therapy buyout has failed in a mid-stage trial, dealing an early blow to the big biotech’s plans to revitalize its pipeline with new technologies.

Biogen announced that the candidate, an experimental treatment for a rare and progressive form of blindness called X-linked retinitis pigmentosa (XLRP), failed to sufficiently improve vision in patients’ treated eye — patients only received an injection in one eye — after a year, on a standard scale, compared to their untreated eye. The company said they saw “positive trends” on several secondary endpoints, including visual acuity, but declined to say whether the trial actually hit any of those endpoints.

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Vas Narasimhan (Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

No­var­tis whiffs on En­tresto study af­ter heart at­tacks — but that does­n't mean it's go­ing down qui­et­ly

If Novartis learned one thing from its interaction with the FDA over its latest heart failure approval for Entresto, it was that missing a primary endpoint may not be the nail in the coffin. Now, Entresto has missed again on a late-stage study in high-risk heart patients, and it’s already sowing the seeds for a path forward regardless.

Novartis’ Entresto couldn’t best standard-of-care ramipril in staving off a composite of deaths and heart failure events in patients with left ventricular systolic dysfunction and/or pulmonary congestion who have had a prior heart attack, according to topline data from the Phase III PARADISE-MI study revealed Saturday at the virtual American College of Cardiology meeting.

Jason Kelly (Photographer: Kyle Grillot/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Gink­go nabs $DNA, biotech's most sought af­ter tick­er, for free in sweet­en­er from NYSE

When Ginkgo went comparison shopping for a financial market to list their now $15 billion company, the New York Stock Exchange had a back-pocket sweetener the Nasdaq couldn’t offer: The most sought-after ticker in biotech, $DNA.

DNA — the most famous three letters in biology and the ticker for the world’s first biotech, Genentech, from 1999 until it was bought out by Roche for $48 billion in 2009 — will now be the ticker for Ginkgo, a 12-year-old synthetic biology startup with grand ambitions to change not only how drugs, but also everyday products like meat and perfumes, are made.

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Lark­spur Health Ac­qui­si­tion files to go pub­lic as this year's SPAC flood surges over $14B

Editor’s note: Interested in following biopharma’s fast-paced IPO market? You can bookmark our IPO Tracker here.

Another day, another SPAC vying for a spot on Nasdaq.

On Wednesday, OncoSec Medical CEO Daniel O’Connor filed the S-1 paperwork for a new blank-check company he’s leading called Larkspur Health Acquisition. The former Advaxis chief penciled in a $75 million raise, with plans to offer 7.5 million shares at $10 apiece.

BAR­DA slows its $9B en­gine for new Covid-19 ther­a­peu­tics

The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority is cooling its jets in looking for new, potential Covid-19 treatments, at least in the near term.

An HHS spokesperson told Endpoints News via email, “to date, BARDA has obligated more than $9 billion for the development and/or purchase of 13 therapeutics, beginning in February 2020 with support to develop Regeneron’s monoclonal antibody therapeutic. Therapeutics are an important element of the COVID-19 response, and we are focused on the programs currently underway and/or in negotiation using the funds available to us.”

Bris­tol My­ers backs up its case for heart drug mava­camten as FDA weighs app in car­diomy­opa­thy

When Bristol Myers Squibb signed off on its $13 billion acquisition of MyoKardia back in October, it was making a big bet that lead drug mavacamten could prove a game changer in cardiac myopathy. Now, with the drug up for FDA review, Bristol Myers is backing up its case with new quality of life data.

Patients dosed with myosin inhibitor mavacamten posted a clinically significant increase in scores on the Kansas City Cardiomyopathy Questionnaire, a catch-all summary of symptoms and quality of life markers, over placebo at 30 weeks, according to data from the Phase III EXPLORER-HCM study presented Saturday at the virtual American College of Cardiology meeting.