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bit.bio + London Institute for Mathematical Sciences = progress on industrial-scale production of all human cells

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A combination of mathematics and biology could enable industrial-scale production of all human cells for drug discovery or cell therapy - and accelerate the introduction of prototype organ printing.

That is the hope of cell coding company bit.bio, which has agreed a new partnership with the London Institute for Mathematical Sciences.

The bit.bio team
The bit.bio team

Helping to reduce reliance on animal testing, the organisations expect clinical trials of therapies based on bit.bio’s cells to be rolled out in three to five years.

Prototype organ printing could happen within 10 years, they hope.

Dr Mark Kotter, founder and CEO of bit.bio , said: “Our collaboration with the London Institute is incredibly exciting, as we work on a paradigm shift in biology, moving it from an observational to a predictive science.

“Over the past decade we have learned that biology can be viewed as a software. Our collaboration with LIMS will help to decode the ‘operating system of life’. This will unlock opportunities, including a new generation of cell therapies for tackling diseases such as cancer and dementia, accelerating drug development and could even help us combat pandemics of the future.”

It has been a landmark year for bit.bio, which closed a $41.5million Series A investment in June , backed by former National Cancer Institute director Richard Klausner, among others.

bit.bio CEO and founder Mark Kotter. Picture: Bambi Cantrell
bit.bio CEO and founder Mark Kotter. Picture: Bambi Cantrell

The company, which also moved to new headquarters on Babraham Research Campus, has already created the first large-scale, high-purity batches of cells to test new Alzheimer’s and dementia drugs.

“We are just at that critical time in biology where we’ve identified a huge bottleneck, which really consists of having access to a robust and scalable source of human cells,” said Mark.

“At bit.bio we combine data science and biology to make cells that nobody else can make.

“The starting point for this is a platform technology that we call optio-x, which essentially allows us to execute genetic code in cells very robustly.

“In order to be able to recreate every human cell, you need to create a model or an understanding of this operating system, which is our collaboration with LIMS.

“Once you’ve got that you can also create a predictive model of a cell.”

Mark sees biology increasingly moving towards engineering - a transition that has already taken place successfully in physics.

“If you think about it, when Newton introduced calculus to physics, he gave us a tool to look into the future and in biology we are still at a point where we do experiments to generate data and we have very limited ways of predicting the outcome of an experiment.

“If we had a better understanding of the control mechanisms of biology - I would say the ‘software’ that runs in a human cell - then we would be able to also pivot biology into that new paradigm,” he said.

Drugs tested on animals have a 97 per cent failure rate, partly due to differences between animal and human cells.

And progress on cell therapies for diseases such as cancer have been hampered by the lack of available human cells.

While synthetic biology has promised to overcome some of these challenges, it has been hindered by the difficulty in unlocking the fundamental laws governing cell identity.

But bit.bio has succeeded in creating high-purity batches of neurons, muscle cells and oligodendrocytes at scale and its patented technique holds the potential for the custom-building of any human cell.

bit.bio’s glutamatergic neurons
bit.bio’s glutamatergic neurons

With backing from Silicon Valley, and a scientific team including Dr Roger Pedersen, a pioneer of human stem cell biology and cell reprogramming expert Dr Marius Wernig, co-director of the Stanford Stem Cell Institute, it is poised to make a pioneering contribution.

“The moonshot goal of bit.bio is to recreate every human cell in the body and then to provide them for research and drug discovery purposes,” said Mark.

“But at the same time there will be cell types that are going to be very valuable for therapeutic application in the form of cell therapies and perhaps in the future tissues or organs.”

Bit.bio’s partnership with The London Institute for Mathematical Sciences, a private physics and maths research centre, aims to continue the fusion of biology and maths, so that all human cells can be read out and reprogrammed like software.

Dr Thomas Fink, founder and director of the London institute for Mathematical Sciences, said: “Life is the final frontier of mathematics and the marriage of maths and biology will change the face of both disciplines.

“Decoding cellular identity will require entirely new kinds of mathematics, as well as a deeper understanding of machine learning. Living organisms exhibit extraordinary concision and elegance, the hallmarks off mathematical structure.

bit.bio’s human skeletal myocytes generated by MYOD1-driven reprogramming of stem cells using opti-ox technology
bit.bio’s human skeletal myocytes generated by MYOD1-driven reprogramming of stem cells using opti-ox technology

“The human genome amounts to just three gigabytes of data. But viruses, a mere seven kilobytes, can redirect it by calling up just the right subroutines, in a similar way to how modular software works. Uncovering the operating system of life could enable us to engineer human cells as readily as we do software.”

Bit.bio is a nominee in the Cambridge Independent Science and Technology Awards. A shortlist will be announced in November, ahead of the winners being revealed early in 2021.

Read more

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