With $58m in hand, Touchlight looks to triple DNA manufacturing capacity

Touchlight says the latest fundraising round will help increase production capacity to up to 1 kilogram of DNA per month – enough for 1 billion vaccine doses – as demand skyrockets.

Hampton, UK-based firm Touchlight has raised £42 million ($58 million) through a fundraising round led by Bridford Investments Limited.

The firm produces synthetic DNA used as starting material in advanced therapies including lentivirus and messenger RNA (mRNA) and says the cash injection will be used to expand production capacity, as well as fund operational investments and investments in further technological development.

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Touchlight has developed its own synthetic DNA vector, referred to as ‘doggybone DNA (dbDNA),’ which it says can be produced far quicker than traditional plasmid DNA – weeks versus months.

“dbDNA is made using enzymes in small-scale disposable equipment. This contrasts with plasmid DNA, which requires large scale fermentation and lysis equipment with a large and relatively complex facility footprint,” chief business officer Tommy Duncan told this publication. “dbDNA bypasses the slow and laborious steps of plasmid manufacture by eliminating cells.”

The firm will use the proceeds to expand its facility in London, UK, adding 11 DNA production suites on top of the four that are already there. The extra 7,500 square feet will create up to 60 jobs once operational, expected in the first quarter 2022, and feed the ever-growing demand for synthetic DNA from drugmakers.

“We’re experiencing significant demand from nucleic acid vaccines (mRNA and DNA vaccines), in addition to viral vectors and genome editing,” Duncan said.

Explicitly, COVID-19 has validated mRNA and viral vaccines. Both Pfizer’s and Moderna’s US FDA approved vaccines are based on mRNA tech, while two other breakthrough vaccines – AstraZeneca’s and J&J’s – are based on adenoviruses.

“mRNA vaccines require a DNA starting material to be manufactured quickly and at scale. DNA vaccines are also progressing through the clinic and will be a significant driver of demand,” Duncan said.

While the pandemic has driven a dramatic rise in demand for DNA services, he added demand for DNA as a starting material outside of COVID-19 is also increasing. “Beyond COVID-19, nucleic acid manufacturers are looking towards rapid manufacturing platforms for new variants, seasonal flu and pandemic preparedness.”

The fundraising comes five months after the firm installed former Lonza executive Karen Fallen as CEO of its contract manufacturing division, Touchlight DNA Services.