Illumina helps add a $37M Twist on DNA synthesis

Twist Bioscience CEO Emily Leproust

San Francisco-based Twist Bioscience has added a $37 million C round to ramp up commercialization efforts for a new tech platform that synthesizes DNA on silicon, promising to spark an industrial-scale shift that will dwarf the traditional approach to R&D that has long been in use.

Twist has gathered $82 million in total over just two years to start delivering on a boast. The company says it can mass-produce DNA fragments and synthetic genes that can be used for a multitude of drug development experiments--or for chemical or ag production as well as diagnostics.

Gene-sequencing giant Illumina ($ILMN) led this round, with the help of new investor Foresite Capital Management as well as a group of existing investors that includes Nick and Joby Pritzker--through their family's firm Tao Invest--ARCH Venture Partners, Paladin Capital Group, Yuri Milner, and "additional strategic corporate and venture investors."

Twist CEO Emily Leproust says there's a big market waiting for a synthetic DNA service like this, which promises to take the whole tech mantra of faster, better and cheaper to the proverbial next level.

"We found there were a lot of unhappy customers," she tells FierceBiotech. Rivals in this field are too inefficient, too slow and offer imperfect quality. "When I see a big market with unhappy customers, I see an opportunity."

The bottleneck in the business is relying on the 96-well plate that was considered state of the art for high-throughput screening 20 years ago. Twist is ramping that up to 10,000 wells.

"We launched in April, an alpha program, and opened access to a few companies," she adds. That has helped validate their approach and move the company closer to the beta program and then on to a full launch. In the process, the fast growing company, now with a staff of 67, will grow to 100.

Nicholas Naclerio, Illumina's senior vice president of corporate development and general manager of enterprise informatics, will join the Twist Bioscience board of directors.

"Twist Bioscience has developed a unique method of mass producing high quality DNA fragments and synthetic genes at very low cost utilizing silicon wafer manufacturing techniques," said Naclerio. "The ability to 'write' genes as easily as our sequencers can 'read' genes will further accelerate the pace of life science research and could enable entirely new applications."

- here's the release