Evonetix raises $30m to advance ‘DNA on a chip’ platform

Evonetix will use the funding to accelerate the development of its DNA synthesis technology platform aimed at enabling synthetic biology. We spoke to CEO Tim Brears to find out more.

Cambridge, UK-based Evonetix was founded in 2015 with a focus on synthetic biology. In 2018, a Series A round raised $12.3 million and now the firm has raised $30 million in a Series B investment, led by west-coast investor Foresite Capital.

The funding will be used to accelerate internal technology development, including the integration of Evonetix’s technology to enable the synthesis of DNA on a chip.

Image: iStock/Sergey Glebov

Tim Brears, Evonetix CEO, explained further:

Bioprocess Insider (BI): The term ‘synthetic biology’ is popping up more and more often. What does it mean in terms of the biopharma – and more importantly the bioprocessing – space?

Tim Brears (TB): Synthetic biology is a term used to describe an approach by which novel artificial biological pathways, organisms or devices are designed and constructed. Bringing together skills from biology, chemistry, bioinformatics and engineering, it applies engineering-like techniques, at scale, to solve biological problems through a rational process of ‘Biodesign’.

Synthetic biology has the potential to deliver a wide range of new and innovative products to several industries including the discovery of new medicines and improved bioprocessing capabilities for the pharmaceutical industry. For example, many of the most fundamental processes in the discovery and development of therapeutic proteins, in particular monoclonal antibodies, rely on synthetic DNA. The ability to rapidly and rationally generate diversity for in vitro antibody discovery allows, for example, the creation of in silico designed libraries that harness the power of bioinformatics, allowing for screening guided by protein structural expertise, thereby facilitating the discovery and development of novel therapeutic proteins with desirable properties.

Pharma also face the ongoing challenge of developing and optimizing the synthesis of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs). These challenges involve a multitude of issues designed to improve yield, purity, stereoselectivity, process conditions (i.e. temperature and pressure), scalability, and production economics.

An example is the production of paclitaxel, sold under the brand name Taxol, which is a chemotherapy medication used to treat several types of cancer.  Current methods have made it very difficult to secure an adequate supply but synthetic biology can provide approaches to genetically reprogram chassis organisms to produce high value molecules, such as paclitaxel at scale and low cost, revolutionizing bioproduction.

BI: What are the benefits of ‘synthetic biology’ compared to traditional biomanufacturing?

TB: The benefits of synthetic biology in the discovery and bioproduction are significant. Using the combination of rational design to optimize desirable properties and synthetic DNA, synthetic biology can rapidly provide efficacious drugs by generating a greater number of potential variants to screen simultaneously at low cost. By revolutionizing current workflows, the time to market is potentially significantly decreased and many more highly efficacious drugs can be made more efficiently, at scale and at low cost.

Evonetix CEO Tim Brears

Beyond the example discussed above, the impact of synthetic biology of drug discovery will be broad ranging and include the development of novel vaccines (antigen genes or nucleic acid vaccines), gene therapy (with its requirement for synthetic DNA), CRISPR-Cas9 and other cellular engineering techniques.

BI: How specifically will this funding be used?

TB: The funding will be used to accelerate the development of the technology into our first product.

BI: How does your synthesis of DNA on a chip work, and how can it help develop and manufacture future medicines?

TB: We are developing a radically different approach to DNA synthesis – a highly parallel desktop platform to synthesize DNA at high accuracy, scale and speed. A DNA writer with proprietary consumable silicon chips.

The chips comprise of thousands of islands of heat within a continuous flowing liquid acting as “virtual wells” or reaction sites, each with independent temperature control for parallel DNA synthesis. Thousands of DNA strands can be built within each virtual well under thermal control using proprietary thermal labile chemistry. Following the synthesis, these thousands of DNA strand variants from across the chip can be selectively released from the “virtual wells” and assembled on-chip to produce longer DNA strands. Because the assembly of single-stranded DNA into longer double-stranded DNA is temperature-sensitive, our unique assembly process is used to verify that synthesized DNA strands are free from errors. This is done by allowing complementary strands to bind to each other and testing their melting temperature in the virtual heated well. Those strands not bound at a specific temperature fail the check and are washed away. In this way, thousands of different DNA strands can be automatically assembled in parallel into long accurate double-stranded DNA molecules, at unprecedented speed and scale.

The technology has the potential to both miniaturize DNA synthesis and simplify the sequence verification process, with the added benefit of bringing it to the lab bench. Printing bespoke is as easy as hitting “Print”.

This will provide drug developers the capability and tools to efficiently rapidly prototype many variants of rationally designed DNA for screening in order to supply effective treatments to patients worldwide.

BI: What interest has there been from big pharma firms for your tech?

TB: We have had consistent feedback from small and large pharma that there is an appetite and an unmet need for rapid DNA synthesis technology in-house that can enable highly parallel, accurate, scalable DNA synthesis. They have indicated that the technology would revolutionize their current workflows.

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