Hi ,

Check out the highlights of day 2 of SynBioBeta 2024 by our writers Gabrielle David, Katia Tarasava, and Kostas Vavitsas.

From Konstantinos Vavitsas:

A common discussion topic among the SynbioBeta “regulars” is how happy they are to be back to SynbioBeta. Nobody could express the sentiment better than Jake Wintermute from Ginkgo in his short address: “This is the place where we can geek out about things nobody knows about,” he said. The enthusiasm and smiling faces filled the main stage for a second day of exciting talks and new opportunities to learn and connect.

Photo Credit: Patrick Power

This morning’s keynote speaker was none other than Sang Yup Lee from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST). He is a synthetic biology and metabolic engineering legend, and he proved it with a fascinating talk about biomanufacturing almost any small molecule imaginable. He took us through a journey from the early days of metabolism manipulation to the recent use of big data models that design strains with minimal human intervention. He highlighted the importance of holistic design that encompasses downstream processing and gave examples of producing difficult, not natural, molecules. The take-home message of the talk is that synthetic biology has the potential to produce all chemicals at an industrial scale when enough resources, talent, and purpose are deployed.

Photo Credit: Patrick Power

Moji Karimi from Cemvita gave his foresight on how synthetic biology and environmental science can join forces and solve planetary challenges. He outlined the factors that will affect the success of tech solutions that go beyond the technology considerations. “Future is not something that happens just because time passes,” he noted. “The future is already here.”

SynbioBeta is known as a place where entrepreneurs meet investors and embark on their joint journey for commercial success. The panel on de-risking synbio ventures, moderated by Packy McCormick from Not Boring, was an excellent showcase of what are VC investors currently looking for in the startups they would like to commit to. Ursheet Parikh from Mayfield Fund, Jenny Rooke from Genoa Ventures, Omri Amirav-Drory from NFX, and Brigid O’Brien from RA Capital Management gave a lot of important messages to startups. New ventures cannot ignore the numbers behind their business plan and need to have a path to revenue without relying on government subsidies. They need to identify the clients, and have a defined value proposition, but also see through the eyes of the VCs and their financial goals. They should aim for markets with high-profit margins, prepare their narrative and storytelling, and use every available resource, such as the annual reports of the companies in the fields they are active in.

Photo Credit: Patrick Power

The morning session closed with a fireside chat with Sean McClain from Absci and Charles Roberts from ARK Investment Management on AI and its implementation in drug discovery. The new algorithms give unprecedented capabilities to medical applications and open up truly personalized medicine. McLain brought the example of Absci’s antibody design platform, as opposed to the traditional antibody discovery and isolation. “The technology allowed us to move from finding a needle in a haystack to creating a needle ourselves,” he said. There is optimism that in the near future, clinicians will be able to collect a patient sample, analyze, and generate the optimal therapy for the patients in a seamless, integrated biomedical practice.

Photo Credit: Patrick Power


From Katia Tarasava:

The highlight of this year’s Longevity Track was no doubt the morning session on Ethics, Elixirs, and Enterprises: The Triad of Longevity's Future featuring Vinod Khosla, Founder & Partner at Khosla Ventures and the recipient of this year’s SynBioBeta Lifetime Achievement Award.

Photo Credit: Patrick Power


Khosla shared his vision of the future of healthcare, which includes better diagnostics and self-driving MRI machines. He believes that most diseases of aging can be managed through early detection and advocates for longevity research that focuses on the entire lifespan, not just the later decades of life. Although the field is quite new, significant strides have already been made in longevity research. For instance, Loyal is on track to approve the first longevity drug in dogs. This is great news for dog owners—not only because they get to spend more time with their furry friends but also because this research might translate into humans.

Next, Kristy Hawkins, Co-Founder and Chief Scientific Officer of Antheia, discussed the need to restructure pharmaceutical ingredient supply chains. Antheia’s technology addresses drug shortages by producing plant-based active pharmaceutical ingredients in engineered yeast and designing new medicines that do not exist in nature.

Today’s lightning talks spanned topics from generative AI to scaling up the production of enzymes, small molecules, and oils. Gurnek Singh, Head of Business Development at InstaDeep, covered the AI methods and tools. Others covered specific AI applications, such as reimaging the potential of enzymes with AI and physics-based design strategies (presented by Biomatter), phenotype prediction by investigating the metabolomics “dark matter” (Matterworks), and solving the challenge of targeted delivery with engineered viral capsids (Dyno Therapeutics).

Next, we got to hear perspectives from an investor panel chaired by Tony Jeffries, Partner at Wilson Sonsini. Despite the recent tightening, Sean O'Sullivan, Managing General Partner at SOSV, observed that there is still a lot of venture funding going into biotech. Investors realize that synthetic biology is one of the best technological solutions for the problems our planet faces. As Pae Wu, General Partner and CTO at IndieBio, said, “We need all hands on deck” when it comes to meeting sustainability targets.

Photo Credit: Patrick Power


From Gabrielle David:

Drew Berry ( kicked off the afternoon events on the main stage with a journey through the molecular mechanisms underlying processes from the production of cellulose to the inner workings of lysosomes via the medium of animation. Using video game engines, Berry and his team simulate these processes, filming them as they happen in silico, to capture these intricate processes in captivating short films. “If someone sees something in action [...] they understand it intuitively,” Berry stated, highlighting the value of animation in science communication, not only with other scientists but also with the public.

Photo Credit: Patrick Power

Layers of research make up the foundation of these works, as Berry exemplified with his animation of the ATP synthase, and the result is a testament to this. Over the tones of a middle school choir (composed and recorded by Franc Tétaz), a process often taken for granted (despite its clear importance) becomes a spectacle, each component contributing to an entrancing molecular dance.

Bruce Li (TJX Bioengineering) followed, bringing attention to the moving target faced when scaling synbio endeavors. As production increases, the challenges change, which makes outsourcing an attractive option. Li argued that this is not always the best option. Besides hidden financial costs, there is the loss of opportunities for innovation (as Li highlighted - many of the most groundbreaking discoveries are made by accident!). Concluding, Li suggests a balance - external knowledge can be pivotal in making progress, however embracing in-house solutions can have a myriad of often overlooked benefits.

Next, Arvind Gupta (Mayfield) carried on the logistics conversation from a financial angle, focusing on how to build sustainable businesses in the ever-changing modern environment. Infrastructure costs are high across industries - energy, food, and material production require massive inputs each year to foster a sustainable global economy. By using infrastructure in place already, he advised that companies can use machinery and waste products from other industries without the high inputs for sustainable industries.

Photo Credit: Patrick Power

Following this, Daan Luining (Meatable) took the audience through the technology pioneered by Meatable which is taking the process of cultivating high-quality fat and muscle tissue to new heights. With their patented process, the transformation of pluripotent stem cells to these products has been reduced to just days, a massive leap in efficiency for an industry where such speed is invaluable. Not only does this bring products to consumers faster, but at a much lower price, a knockdown effect on accessibility.

Next, a fireside chat with Christopher Hart (Creyon Bio) explored the world of oligonucleotide therapeutics. A key challenge faced by this industry is the late discovery of toxicity at the final stages of clinical trials. By flipping the usual narrative of retrospective development, Hart hopes to eliminate the laborious and frustrating cycle of designing and testing molecules.

A promising case study from the company provided a powerful statement in favor of these technologies. Just a month after being born Leo was not developing normally. Thanks to whole genome sequencing, it was discovered that one SNP in Leo’s DNA caused an extremely rare toxic gain of function mutation. Here is where Creyon comes in - starting with a large batch of compounds, they whittled these down using their breakthrough workflow to proceed to clinical tests at a lightning pace, before the final product was able to be given to Leo. After treatment, the effects were remarkable - his seizures became less frequent, and developmental milestones which once seemed so far for the family were beginning to arrive. “We went from whiteboard to dosing the patient in 13 months” stated Hart. By removing trial and error, customized drugs can be made at a remarkable pace, an exciting therapeutic development that promises to change the face of medicine, hopefully, sooner rather than later.

Photo Credit: Patrick Power


“Modern biology is ready,” emphasized Hart. With journals outputting breakthroughs at breakneck speed and the computational infrastructure now in place, precision medicine is finding its place. 

In the final spotlight talk of the day, Klaus Skaalum Lassen (Novozvmes) shared the mission of Novozvmes - to use enhanced rock weathering for CO2 capture. Novonensis has demonstrated the capacity of the enzyme carbonic anhydrase to greatly increase the cost efficiency and CO2 capture potential of this process, an exciting frontier in carbon capture and storage.

In a fascinating final discussion, Jon Entine (Genetic Literacy Project), Brad Ringeisen (Innovative Genomics Institute), Julia Stevens (Bayer Crop Science), Artun Sukan (Uncommon Bio), Ian Miller (Pairwise), and Shely Aronov (InnerPlant)  discussed the ‘Biotech Innovations in Feed and Agriculture for a Brighter Future’. In a vibrant discussion, the panelists touched upon the key challenges of achieving scalability, cost, taste, and nutritional benefits of products while tackling the political and social challenges of these innovations.

Photo Credit: Patrick Power


The panel also touched upon the role of AI in the field, with some uncertainty surrounding its capacity with currently available data, however, the consensus was hopeful for its potential in the future. Moving on, they discussed ownership of these technologies, highlighting the challenging process of striking a balance between sharing tools to support the development of a sustainable future and protecting the investments made by the companies responsible.

Concluding, the panel agreed: a clear outlining of benefits is critical at all stages in getting food and agriculture developments to consumers, from legislative changes to incentivizing farmers to consumer acceptance.


Announcements From SynBioBeta 2024:


Jeff Buguliskis, PhD

Director of Content

Who's hiring?

Email Marketing by ActiveCampaign