High-Flying Ginkgo Nets Another $290M to Program Cells Like Computers

Xconomy Boston — 

Ginkgo Bioworks, a synthetic biology specialist that has become worth billions, has raised another $290 million to expand the breadth of a technology that tinkers with a cell’s genetic code and reprograms it—like programming a computer.

Boston-based Ginkgo uses a combination of software and robotic systems to design organisms. It started out making microbes engineered to secrete a compound, like a chemical used in a flavor or a fragrance. But Ginkgo now has broader ambitions. The company says its synthetic biology approach can help with life sciences research and potentially replace a slew of conventional manufacturing practices that are more expensive or unsustainable. It has raised a considerable amount of cash to back the effort. With the latest round, the company is now reportedly worth close to $5 billion.

Ginkgo’s efforts in life sciences, in particular, have picked up steam over the past few years. In 2017, the company started a joint venture with Bayer to develop microbes for agriculture. A year ago, the company reached a deal with Cronos Group (NASDAQ: CRON) to produce chemical compounds in cannabis for medicinal and recreational use. And in June, Synlogic (NASDAQ: SYBX) expanded a partnership using Ginkgo’s technology to develop medicines made up of engineered bacteria.

But Ginkgo engineers cells as well. Last October, Ginkgo company opened a facility for rapid genetic engineering of mammalian cells. The company makes those cells for customers in pharmaceutical research and manufacturing. The “digital code” of a cell is its DNA. In an approach similar to programming a computer, Ginkgo writes genetic code to program a cell for a wide range of applications, CEO Jason Kelly said in a prepared statement Thursday.

“Today’s fundraise will allow us expand our technology and continue our drive to bring biology into every physical goods industry—materials, clothing, electronics, food, pharmaceuticals, and more,” Kelly said. “They are all biotech industries but just don’t know it yet.”

Ginkgo last raised money in 2017, a $275 million Series D round of financing that made the company a “unicorn,” a company valued at more than $1 billion. At that time, the company was valued at more than $1.3 billion, according to Pitchbook. The latest financing added T. Rowe Price Associates among others to its group of investors. The company says all earlier major investors also participated in the Series E funding round.

Photo by Ginkgo Bioworks