Q4 2020 Portfolio Company Updates: The Biotech Revolution, COVID-19 Vaccines and At-Home Testing, Partnerships and Funding News
The seismic shifts of 2020 have sparked an acceleration of innovations which have armed humanity with awareness and ability to create powerful, longstanding positive impact via next generation scientific platforms.
2020 has proven that having a robust and agile scientific platform enables companies to adapt to and overcome unforeseen circumstances, accelerate product development and scale-up commercialization at rates previously unimaginable. Companies like Moderna (founded 2010, ~1,000 employees) and BioNTech (founded 2008, 1,300 employees) were able to develop approved COVID-19 vaccines sooner than giant industry veterans AstraZeneca (founded 1919, 71,000 employees) and Johnson & Johnson (founded 1886, 132,000 employees).
OS Fund portfolio company Ginkgo Bioworks (founded 2009, 300 employees) was a central figure in this year’s pandemic efforts, both partnering with Moderna on optimizing production of an mRNA vaccine, and securing a $1.1 billion federal loan for COVID-19 testing and the production of raw materials for future therapeutics.
We are excited to share that many of our portfolio companies continued their remarkable progress in 2020.
|Portfolio Company Spotlights
Shortly after announcing that it had secured at least 10 million rapid antigen test kits for Concentric by Ginkgo, the company’s end-to-end service for COVID-19 testing, Ginkgo announced that it had received approval for a massive loan of up to $1.1B from the US International Development Finance Corporation to accelerate vaccine manufacturing and COVID-19 testing infrastructure. As a key partner to Moderna in the production of their recently-launched COVID-19 vaccine, CEO Jason Kelly was regularly featured in major news outlets to discuss the production and delivery process of the groundbreaking mRNA vaccinations.
In December, Ginkgo also announced that it had received a $15M DARPA contract to develop a skin microbiome-based mosquito repellent. Together with Azitra, Inc., Florida International University, and Latham BioPharm Group, Ginkgo will work to create a new type of mosquito repellant that will provide long-lasting protection in the fight against mosquito-borne diseases. The company later announced that it had acquired biotech startup Novogy’s microbial engineering platform and will incorporate its strain assets, IP portfolio, and most of Novogy’s technical team to meet the increased demand for bio-based oils. Finally, Gingko launched a pilot program to bring COVID-19 pooled testing to K-12 classrooms; the pilot program kicked off on January 4, 2021 and will include schools across the US. Ginkgo will provide all materials to collect and ship samples, lab processing, and data return at no cost to participating schools.
In mid-November, the FDA provided its first authorization for an at-home, self-testing kit to Lurica Health. The Lucira COVID-19 All-In-One Test Kit is a single use, molecular test kit that is intended to detect SARS-CoV-2. It is currently authorized for home use for patients ages 14+ and patients of all ages in medical environments, with results available in 30 minutes. Lucira plans to roll out tests in California and Florida first, then will make them widely available across the country in spring 2021.
Arzeda announced a joint development agreement with Amyris to accelerate development and commercialization of high value ingredients; this is the second partnership between Arzeda and Amyris following a successful collaboration on a DARPA TIA from 2015-2019. In the current partnership, Arzeda will design and develop novel enzymes with unique functionalities for the inclusion in Amryis’s fermentation processes. Arzeda also announced expanded applications of its protein design platform to include commercial deployment of designer enzymes for sustainable food and nutrition ingredients and welcomed biotech veteran Doug Cameron to its Board of Directors.
In early Q4, Atomwise received a $2.3M grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to fund AI-powered discovery of novel antimalarial and anti-tuberculosis therapies in conjunction with the Foundation’s global network. Together with FutuRx, Atomwise launched the joint venture A2i Therapeutics, which received funding from Johnson & Johnson, Takeda Ventures, Leaps by Bayer, and the Israeli Innovation Authority to initiate a small molecule program focused on the discovery of novel immuno-oncology agents. In addition to A2i Therapeutics, Atomwise announced a number of joint venture companies with leading research programs covering oncology, immunology, infectious disease (vAirus), neuroscience (OrganAi), and clotting disorders. Atomwise CEO Abe Heifets will speak at Informa’s Biotech Showcase January 11-15.
Augmenta Bioworks and TFF Pharmaceuticals, Inc. announced a worldwide joint development and collaboration agreement to develop novel commercial products utilizing Augmenta’s monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) and TFF Pharmaceuticals’ Thing-Film Freezing technology for potential COVID-19 therapeutic applications. Augmenta also signed a new MSA with Oncimmune Holdings to profile patient plasma samples and characterize therapeutic candidates discovered using Augmenta’s SingleCyte and DeepGrid discovery platforms. The initial focus of this partnership will be to identify specific therapeutic antibodies that bind to antigens found in human cancer patients.
Eat Just announced that it will launch an updated version of its groundbreaking JUST Egg product to more closely mimic the taste, texture, and price of chicken eggs, as well as that it had expanded its retail footprint by 40 percent, to more than 17,000 stores. After JUST Egg was named the #3 Best Vegan Product of All Time, it was announced that Eat Just partnered with Proterra to build a $120M production facility in Singapore capable of producing thousands of metric tons of sustainable protein. In November, Eat Just’s GOOD Meat brand won regulatory approval to begin selling chicken made from cultured cells in Singapore; they are the first brand to receive any governmental approval to launch sales to consumers. GOOD Meat Cultured Chicken was served for the first time at 1880, a fine-dining restaurant in Singapore in mid-December.
Together with Helena, Nanoly Bioscience announced that they will offer their innovative DynaShield product–a temperature-stabilizing polymer–at no cost to COVID-19 vaccine, biologic, and therapeutics developments. The DynaShield polymer technology allows sensitive proteins to be stored for long periods of time without freezing or glycerol and may be a potential solution to the cold chain challenges currently being faced in COVID vaccine development and deployment.
Named as one of the 10 Best New Wellness Products of 2020, Elysium’s Matter supplement targets the effects of aging in the brain. Developed in partnership with the University of Oxford, Matter contains a specific B-vitamin complex that has been proven to slow grey-matter atrophy associated with memory decline by up to 86%. Elysium has also developed their Index Biological Age Test, which uses an epigenetic biomarker analysis to assess the proportion of cells marked by DNA methylation to determine your biological age; following this assessment, Elysium provides a complete report with specific health, diet, and lifestyle recommendations designed to help you age better. In mid-December, Elysium announced the initiation of a Phase II Clinical Trial at Mayo Clinic to evaluate the efficacy of its Basis product for the prevention of acute kidney injury after cardiac surgery.
Lygos announced a collaboration with Open Book Extracts to develop and commercialize nutraceutical supplement products with Cannabigerol (CBG). Lygos also announced the launch of Lygos CBx, a low-cost, industrial-scale cannabinoid production company that will utilize a proprietary fermentation-enabled process to offer significant advantages over traditional plant extraction techniques. Lygos CBx partnered with Metalabs to co-develop and commercialize haircare products featuring high-performance, pure, and THC-free cannabinoids.
|Other Portfolio Company News
- twoXAR Pharmaceuticals presented clinical data at the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases (AASLD) demonstrating positive safety and tolerability of two novel NASH treatment candidates, TRX-611 and TRX-612. The timing to complete predictions, select targets, and begin in vivo testing took only four weeks– significantly faster than traditional drug discovery processes.
- Truvian Sciences’ Easy Check COVID-19 IgM/IgG Test performance and accuracy were validated through research conducted by the University of Chicago, which reported sensitivity of 96.6%, specificity of 98.2%, and overall accuracy of 98.1%.
- Kenota Health raised a $9M Series A to further develop its single-visit, rapid allergy testing solution.
- 3T Biosciences appointed industry veteran John Connolly as Interim CEO.
- Catalog announced the addition of four key team members to its scientific advisory board to further advance DNA computing and storage capabilities, including Dr. Anne Condon, Dr. Brenda Dietrich, Dr. Jeffrey A Nichols, and Dr. David A. Weitz. They also joined Illumina, Microsoft, and Twist in the DNA Storage Alliance, which is committing to establishing cost-effective commercial archival storage solutions.
- Emulate Bio announced a Brain Chip to enhance neuroinflammatory disease research and discovery. The comprehensive neurovascular unit emulates features of the human brain and the blood-brain barrier.
- Matternet launched drone delivery operations at Labor Berlin in Germany, Europe’s largest hospital laboratory.
- Synthego partnered with The Krogan Lab of the Quantitative Biosciences Institute at UCSF to deliver CRISPR-based engineered cell lines to accelerate study of potential treatment targets for SARS-CoV-2.
- Verge Genomics announced that it has joined the Neurofilament Light Surveillance Project Project (NSP) to accelerate approaches for the diagnosis and treatment for frontotemporal dementia.
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