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Ginkgo Eyes Antibiotics With Deal for Warp Drive’s Gene “Mining” Tech

Xconomy Boston — 

Microbes designed by Ginkgo Bioworks are used in consumer products such as fragrances and beverages, and they’re undergoing research for applications in agriculture and medicine. The synthetic biology company has been pushing to expand its technology to more uses, and its latest deal moves the firm further into pharmaceutical research.

Boston-based Ginkgo said Wednesday that it has acquired the “genome mining” technology of Warp Drive Bio, which developed technology to find “natural products,” substances in Mother Nature with potential therapeutic applications. Financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.

Warp Drive, which launched in 2012, developed a “genomic search engine” that screens microbial genomes from samples of soil and plants to find promising natural products. The goal was to find natural products that can’t be found in laboratory settings. After finding those substances, Cambridge, MA-based Warp Drive aimed to develop them into new drugs. The company came to focus its research on antibiotics and cancer drugs targeting RAS, a cancer-causing gene. But none of those programs advanced into clinical testing.

Last October, Warp Drive was acquired by Revolution Medicines, a Redwood City, CA, biotech that started out developing therapies derived from natural products before shifting its focus to cancer drug research. Revolution CEO Mark Goldsmith told Xconomy at the time of the acquisition that his company would continue Warp Drive’s research, including an antibiotics partnership with Roche, while it determined what to do with the genome mining technology. The deal announced Wednesday allows Revolution to keep its focus on cancer. Revolution retains the rights to the non-genome mining programs of Warp Drive, including the RAS inhibitors that are in development as potential cancer treatments. The rest of Warp Drive, including its bioinformatics software and collection of genome sequences, goes to Ginkgo.

Eleven-year-old Ginkgo developed proprietary methods for engineering microbes in a lab with robotic systems and software. The custom-made yeast and other microbes secrete compounds in a fermentation process similar to brewing beer. The core initial products of Ginkgo’s microbes were flavors, such as beverage sweeteners, and fragrances, such as rose-scented oil for perfumes.

In recent years, Ginkgo has been assertive in expanding its technology to the life sciences. In 2017, the company launched a joint venture with Bayer aimed at engineering microbes for agricultural applications. Last September, the startup inked a deal with Cronos Group (NASDAQ: CRON), a Canadian company interested in using Ginkgo’s technology to produce chemical compounds found in cannabis, for recreational and medicinal purposes. In another partnership with Synlogic (NASDAQ: SYBX), Ginkgo is developing probiotic-based medicines intended to work in the gut to treat liver and neurological disorders.

With the Warp Drive deal, Ginkgo aims to add antibiotics to its pipeline. The company says Warp Drive’s software can use genomic sequencing to identify, analyze, and evaluate more than 100 classes of potential antibiotics. The company adds that this technology might be useful in finding new antibiotics that can help address the rise of antibiotic-resistant diseases.

Warp Drive had been working with Roche since 2017 in a partnership focused on using the genome mining technology to develop new antibiotics. That partnership will continue under Ginkgo, CEO Jason Kelly told Forbes. The deal also brings the former genome mining team of Warp Drive, which will relocate to Ginkgo’s headquarters in Boston’s Seaport neighborhood.

Photo by Osman Rana on Unsplash used in accordance with Unsplash free license