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‘You tell machine what DNA you want’: Synthesis-on-a-chip nets Evonetix £23m

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The Evonetix desktop DNA writer/synthesiser
The Evonetix desktop DNA writer/synthesiser

Synthetic biology specialist Evonetix – whose technology has applications in pharmaceuticals, agriculture, renewables and data storage – has raised £23million in a Series B funding round for the development of its desktop platform for scalable, high-fidelity and rapid gene synthesis.

The round, led by new investor Foresite Capital, saw existing investors Draper Esprit, DCVC (Data Collective), the Morningside group, Providence Investment Company, Cambridge Consultants, Rising Tide Fund, and Civilization Ventures, all participate.

“We raised slightly more than anticipated,” Evonetix CEO Dr Tim Brears told the Cambridge Independent. “It’s fantastic to have another West Coast investor – Foresite is in San Francisco and DCVC, Rising Tide and Civilization are also California-based. So it’s interesting that West Coast investors want to invest in the UK.

“Companies like UK-based Draper Esprit also understand the potential of synthetic biology while many other European investors focus more specifically on healthcare, where the risk profiles are well charted.”

Evonetix, who won the award for innovation at the Cambridge Independent’s Science & Technology Awards 2019, will use the funding to accelerate internal technology development through to the introduction of its desktop DNA platform, which will put the physical means of production of DNA in the hands of researchers for the first time.

“Our highly parallel desktop platform, which will be available to every researcher to accelerate their ability to use biology on a scale not possible with existing approaches,” says Dr Brears.

The company’s technology utilises a silicon chip, made by microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) processing, that controls the synthesis of DNA at many thousands of independently controlled reaction sites or ‘pixels’ on the chip surface in a highly parallel fashion. Following synthesis, strands are assembled on-chip into double-stranded DNA in a process that identifies and removes errors, enabling accuracy, scale and speed that is several orders of magnitude better than conventional approaches.

DNA will soon be coded on a desktop platform sold by Coldham’s Business Park company
DNA will soon be coded on a desktop platform sold by Coldham’s Business Park company

The advance can hardly be underestimated, says Vishal Gulati, venture partner at Draper Esprit.

“The next set of breakthroughs in healthcare and synthetic biology will come from technologies that can go beyond reading DNA to writing it,” he said.

Evonetix was founded by Cambridge Consultants and Providence Investment Company in 2015 and achieved a $12.3million Series A funding in 2018. The close of the Series B round brings the total funds raised to $46million to date. The company has the backing of Cambridge-based technology entrepreneur and venture capitalist Hermann Hauser.

Evonetix’s next significant milestone is the end of beta testing for the desktop DNA writer.

“The beta testing will start at the end of 2021,” said Dr Brears. “The technology is about changing the way DNA is accessed – our aim is for there to be a DNA writer or sythesiser on every laboratory bench, so researchers will be making DNA themselves under their control. This will be a new paradigm for gene synthesis. It’s rather like using a coffee machine.

“Why send out for an external company to deliver DNA when you can do it in-house at scale and to great accuracy?

“The DNA writer is synthesis on a chip – about the size of the palm of your hand. You tell the machine what pieces of DNA you want to make, you put certain cartridges in – the user interface is on the cloud – and the machine makes your DNA.”

Dr Tim Brears, Evonetix CEO. Picture: Keith Heppell
Dr Tim Brears, Evonetix CEO. Picture: Keith Heppell

Evonetix is also recruiting.

“Since we raised the Series A funding we’ve expanded the team from 10 to 40 very successfully,” notes Dr Brears. “We’ve been able to fish in the Cambridge pool with excellent outcomes and also look further afield.”

Armen Vidian, Evonetix board member and partner at DCVC, said: “DCVC is pleased to continue its commitment to synthetic biology with its renewed investment in Evonetix.

“As demand grows to use synthetic biology for everything from sustaining agriculture to creating precision medicines and synthetic fuels, Evonetix will be well positioned to meet those more complex needs with highly accurate, high throughput, long-strand DNA synthesis.”

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