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San Diego Startup Raises $2.3M to Advance Enzymatic DNA Synthesis

Xconomy San Diego — 

Molecular Assemblies, a San Diego startup developing a new enzymatic method for synthesizing DNA, said today it has raised $2.3 million in a seed financing round.

The funding will be used to hire more scientists and to advance the company’s development of enzymatic DNA synthesis technology, CEO Michael Kamdar said in an interview Friday. Molecular Assemblies says its enzymatic approach for making DNA was inspired by the way nature makes DNA. Investors include Agilent Technologies, the Cavendish Impact Capital Fund, Eleven Two Capital, San Diego angel investor Taner Halicioglu’s Keshif Ventures, Genomics Investment Syndicate, Newport Holdings, and Alexandria Venture Investments.

According to Kamdar, Molecular Assemblies is on the cusp of introducing a new process for making DNA to customer specifications that would result in higher-quality and longer DNA strands, with more accurate sequencing of base pairs. The company was founded in 2013 by chief scientific officer Bill Efcavitch and chief commercial officer Curt Becker, and now has eight employees (pictured above, with chairman Larry Stambaugh, center).

Efcavitch and Becker were early employees at Foster City, CA-based Applied Biosystems, a pioneering supplier of biochemicals used to synthesize DNA and RNA molecules as well as automated genetic engineering and diagnostic research instruments services. San Diego-based Invitrogen merged with Applied Biosystems in a $6.7 billion buyout in 2008; the combined company was renamed Life Technologies and is now owned by Thermo Fisher Scientific.

As the DNA revolution has unfolded over the past 50 years or so, companies like Applied Biosystems, Germany’s GeneArt, and Bothell, WA-based Blue Heron Biotechnology became key industry innovators by supplying the basic chemical building blocks and services that scientists need to synthesize DNA and RNA molecules.

But nowadays, “we’re seeing issues around quality, length [of DNA fragments] and processing,” said Molecular Assemblies Kamdar. The synthetic biology marketplace is largely based now on phosphoramidite synthetic chemistry, which Kamdar described as “a multi-step chemical process that generates lots of [toxic] waste chemicals.”

Molecular Assemblies says new methods of writing genetic code to customer specifications are needed to realize the promise of next-generation genomics, from personalized DNA-based therapies and diagnostics to industrial applications of synthetic biology.

In recent years, companies like Cambridge, MA-based Gen9 and San Francisco-based Twist Bioscience have emerged in the relatively new field of synthetic biology to supply built-to-order strands of DNA. In 2015, San Diego’s Synthetic Genomics introduced a personal DNA work station that enables scientists to make their own synthetic DNA fragments.

Efcavitch and Becker began their work on an enzymatic approach to making DNA at JLABS San Diego, a biotech incubator operating under the auspices of Johnson and Johnson Innovation, and have been issued patents in both the United States and Europe, Kamdar said.