New bit.bio premises impress South Cambs MP at opening day ceremony
South Cambridgeshire MP Anthony Browne heard how bit.bio’s synthetic biology now means that “organoids or biological computers” can be assembled at the company’s new Babraham Research Campus premises, on Friday (September 3).
bit.bio was co-founded by CEO Dr Mark Kotter and COO Florian Schuster in 2016. Its technology “reprogrammes” human cells for research, drug discovery and cell therapy by applying an engineering approach to synthetic and stem cell biology.
The goal is to revolutionise medicine by developing an industrial scale supply of every type of human cell for research and cell therapies. Such therapies could be the key to treating many complex conditions including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
The opening of the new facilities included a ribbon-cutting ceremony and a tour of the company’s new laboratories, during which the ability of bit.bio’s cell technology to precision-engineer human cells became apparent.
The MP was guided round the six functioning labs – six more are not yet operational – by Dr Kotter and Mr Schuster. He met laboratory technicians and scientists including research assistant Luke Foulser, scientist Dr Marcos Herrera Vaquero, senior scientist Dr Stefan Milde, research assistant Petra Parac and senior research scientist Anne-Claire Guenantin, who explained the work being carried out in the labs.
Much of this work is dedicated to progressing bit.bio’s opti-ox platform, which is capable of producing batches of every cell in the human body at scale. The new technology allows human cells to be precision engineered and it is this ability to reliably activate specific transcription factors within the cells which most impressed Mr Browne.
“We take away the randomness,” explained Dr Kotter as the visitors studied the screen display of evolving cells.
Studying some oligodendrocyte progenitor cells – originally given by a donor from a skin cell ie perhaps hair or blood – Dr Herrera Vaquero explained the journey they went on.
“So one stem cell could then be making up part of the brain essentially?” asked Mr Browne.
“When they mature, they look like this...” said Dr Herrera Vaquero.
“From this you can assemble brains, it’s very beautiful,” added Dr Kotter.
“But you could never create a brain this way?” Mr Browne asked.
“You could perhaps create organoids, or biological computers,” Dr Kotter replied.
The tour included one laboratory dedicated to the development of cultivated meat – meat made from animal cells.
Using bit.bio’s knowledge and methods the development company, Meatable, is close to producing a beef product created without animals suffering, freeing up land and the foodstuffs animals require. Meatable, co-founded by Dr Kotter in 2018 (he remains scientific adviser), announced a Series A fundraise of $47m in March.
To date, bit.bio has raised $50m, including a $41.5m Series A investment which concluded in June. The company now has 110 staff.
“We have 80 to 90 staff in R&D in six rooms – laboratories – here,” Mr Schuster said. “That’s Wing A. There’s another six in Wing B not fully fitted out yet.”
Mr Browne concluded: “Their facilities are hugely impressive, and they are pushing the boundaries of what is possible at the cutting edge of biomedical research.
“I wish them every success and look forward to their continuing growth here in South Cambs.”