Gen9, Synthetic Biology Startup, Snags $21M from Agilent

4/24/13Follow @xconomy

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its first commercial synthetic genes to customers about a year ago, Munnelly says. The company has “really just started to ramp up” sales, Munnelly says, as it focuses on building up its technology and manufacturing capacity. Its current manufacturing footprint is small—6,500 square feet—but that space alone should be enough to equal its competitors’ combined annual output by the third quarter of this year, Munnelly says. Gen9 currently sells its gene fragments for 20 cents per DNA base, or less with volume discounts, Munnelly says. That compares to an industry average of about 80 cents a base, with some exceptions, he says.

Over the next couple of years, Gen9 hopes to be able to accurately synthesize much larger stretches of DNA that go as long as 100,000 bases, and to drive the cost down to “pennies per base.” When cost and volume get into that territory, Gen9 should be able to enable many more industrial processes, and more ambitious experiments in which scientists can look at many variations of a gene, instead of just one gene at a time, Munnelly says.

“Synthetic DNA constructs have the potential to form the foundation of the next revolution in industrial manufacturing, through biologically constructed machines that can produce materials of high value and complexity. This revolution will only be possible through the ability to routinely synthesize and assemble high-quality, error-free DNA at much greater sequence lengths than are currently available,” said Neil Cook, a vice president and director at Agilent Laboratories, in a statement. “We believe that Gen9 has the correct strategy, technology, team, and IP portfolio to complement Agilent’s innovations in oligo library synthesis and, working together, we will help realize the promise of synthetic biology.”

While Agilent is contributing money and some of its own technology, it will not be using its sales force to pitch the Gen9 products, Munnelly says. “The people at Agilent are world class. We’ve been able to forge a fantastic relationship at the people level and the technology level,” Munnelly says. But he wasn’t ready to give away the whole company to Agilent yet. “We are a wholly independent entity,” he says. “Our sales team will push our products.”

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