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.