Synlogic, Ginkgo expand synthetic biology research pact

Headshot of Aoife Brennan, CEO of Synlogic
Synlogic CEO Aoife Brennan (Synlogic)

Synlogic has tapped Ginkgo Bioworks for a cell programming platform to support development of its pipeline of engineered microbes. 

Massachusetts-based synthetic biology startup Synlogic began working with Ginkgo in 2017 to gain access to high-throughput organism screening and design capabilities. The goal was to accelerate the development of what Synlogic calls Synthetic Biotic medicines, microbes genetically engineered to counter the biology that drives diseases including hyperammonemia and forms of cancer.

Now, both parties have stepped up their commitment to the relationship. Synlogic is putting up $30 million to source synthetic biology services from Ginkgo over the next five years.

“This collaboration significantly enhances Synlogic’s Synthetic Biotic strain optimization capabilities. It enables us to advance high-quality candidate strains into development more efficiently and provides technology and resources that will fuel pipeline expansion,” Synlogic CEO Aoife Brennan said in a statement.

Ginkgo is committing cash, too, handing over $80 million to buy a stake in Synlogic at a 44% premium to its closing price prior to news of the deal. Synlogic’s share price leapt 20% in premarket trading.

The investment furthers Ginkgo’s move into biopharma. Ginkgo started out engineering microbes to produce flavors and fragrances. In 2015, Ginkgo floated the prospect of its $45 million series B round supporting a push into biopharma, but the expansion really took off last year when it opened a facility focused on the engineering of mammalian cell genomes for drug research and production.

Synlogic will use Ginkgo’s technology in a slightly different way. Its focus is on engineering microbes to directly treat disease, for example by consuming ammonia that builds up in patients whose ability to convert the toxin into urea is impaired. That is the idea behind SYNB1020, one of Synlogic's clinical-phase candidates. 

Working with Ginkgo, Synlogic thinks it can cut the time it takes to turn early preclinical leads into optimized drug candidates that are ready to join SYNB1020 in the clinic.