Ginkgo forms $150M cell screening pact with Berkeley Lights

Ginkgo Bioworks has entered into a $150 million multiyear collaboration with Berkeley Lights. The nonexclusive agreement will enable Ginkgo to incorporate Berkeley Lights’ cell screening technology into its genetic engineering facilities.

California-based Berkeley Lights has landed deals with drug developers including Pfizer and Sanofi on the strength of its optofluidic platform. The platform uses microfluidic, optical and semiconductor technologies to culture and assay single cells, giving it a role in activities including antibody discovery, gene editing and the development of cell therapies.

Berkeley Lights’ track record in those areas of biopharma R&D provided validatory data to support the Ginkgo deal. But Ginkgo, which first made its name in flavors and fragrances, plans to work with its new partner to expand use of the platform to other areas.

“The Berkeley Lights team has already had an incredible impact in pharma—including cell line development and antibody discovery—and we believe this partnership will bring about a step-change in the speed and scale at which we engineer biology for applications across a variety of industries,” Ginkgo co-founder Barry Canton said in a statement. 

Working with Berkeley Lights, Ginkgo plans to adapt the platform to handle yeast, bacterial and fungal cells, potentially opening up new applications in biopharma and the multiple other industries in which the genetic engineering player is active. Ginkgo predicts the deal will triple its capacity to measure cell performance, cut the time it takes to deliver results and lead to richer data. 

Ginkgo’s deal with Berkeley Lights is the latest in a series of moves to strengthen its biopharma capabilities. One year ago, Ginkgo opened a facility, its fourth in total, focused on the mammalian cell engineering that is central to biopharma research and manufacturing.

Since then, Ginkgo has bought Warp Drive Bio’s genome mining platform, landing a relationship with Roche in the process, and teamed up with synthetic biology startup Synlogic to develop new drugs. The collaboration with Berkeley Lights adds more technology to support Ginkgo’s attempts to expand and improve its operation. Ginkgo raised $290 million last month to bankroll its expansion.