Molecular Assemblies Raises $12M to Advance Enzymatic DNA Synthesis

Xconomy San Diego — 

Biologists have been using artificially created DNA, produced through what’s known as chemical DNA synthesis, as a research tool for decades.

Now, as demand for engineered DNA rises, a handful of startups are vying to become the go-to provider for researchers looking for improved versions of the DNA sequences.

Molecular Assemblies is among the companies working to commercialize what’s known as enzymatic DNA synthesis. On Tuesday, the San Diego biotech said it had raised $12.2 million in Series A financing that will help it continue its journey toward commercialization.

The company has developed an enzymatic approach to writing DNA that can produce “long, pure” segments. The pieces made with the method traditionally used top out at a length of about 120 nucleotide bases because of the errors that can accumulate with each addition. Segments made using Molecular Assemblies’ technology can stretch beyond 150 nucleotides, according to the company. It says its enzymatic method uses chemicals that are not hazardous like those used in chemical synthesis, and it requires less processing afterward.

The company has also explored the use of the technology as a way to store data, recently using it to encode digital information in DNA and retrieving it. But the Molecular Assemblies’ focus is primarily on life sciences applications, according to CEO Michael Kamdar, who joined the company in 2016.

Bill Efcavitch, chief scientific officer, and Curt Becker, who left the company in 2017, started Molecular Assemblies in 2013. Previously they were early employees together at Applied Biosystems, which made chemicals used in DNA and RNA synthesis as well as other products and services. (Applied Biosystems merged with San Diego-based Invitrogen in 2008; the combined company, renamed Life Technologies, is now part of Thermo Fisher Scientific (NYSE: TMO.)

Kamdar says the funding round will allow the company to expand its 16-person team to about 25 people, and prep a product for commercialization within the next two years. The company last raised outside funding, a $2.3 million financing round, a few months after Kamdar joined.

Its latest round of funding was led by iSelect Fund, a St. Louis-based investment group. Earlier investors, including Agilent Technologies, San Diego angel investor Taner Halicioglu’s Keshif Ventures, and Alexandria Venture Investments, also participated.

In December, Molecular Assemblies plans to move into a new life science campus property that Alexandria Real Estate Equities (NYSE: ARE) has been developing in San Diego. Called GradLabs, the 98,000-square-foot property is being billed as space for startups that have raised seed funding.

Other companies exploring new ways to synthesize DNA include San Francisco’s Twist Bioscience (NASDAQ: TWST), which last year raised $70 million in its stock market debut.