Ginkgo Bioworks Explodes with Fundraising and Partnerships

Business Partnership

Boston-based Ginkgo Bioworks calls itself “the organism company,” but what that means it uses microorganisms that it engineers across a broad range of markets. These engineered organisms churn out a wide variety of products. And the company has been on a frenzy of fundraising recently.

Yesterday, at the company’s second annual Ferment meeting, it announced the Ferment Consortium. This is a private investment vehicle to fund Ginkgo spinout companies. The companies that are funded by the consortium will have full access to Ginkgo’s cell programming platform as well as its market expertise. The fund has a $350 million commitment from Ginkgo’s current major investors, including Viking Global Investors, General Atlantic, and Bill Gates’ Cascade Investment.

The Ferment Fund plans to invest in two to three companies a year. Part of the strategy is to increase the use of its technology. In 2017, it formed a joint venture with Bayer AG to develop bacteria that can be used as fertilizers without the resultant pollution.

“We’re seeing growing demand from large, sophisticated strategic players across multi-billion dollar industries who realize that synthetic biology will transform their fields,” said Jason Kelly, Ginkgo’s chief executive officer and co-founder. “These incumbents want to be part of shaping that disruption and owning a stake in it rather than watching it unfold. The Ferment Consortium will catalyze these formations and help fund companies with the speed and strength to transform markets using synthetic biology.”

In late September, Ginkgo announced a Series E financing round worth $290 million. All of its existing major investors participated, and new investors included funds and accounts advised by T. Row Price Associates. The financing brought the company’s total funding to $719 million. The company indicated it plans to use the funds to continue expanding its platform for cell programming.

In the last two years, Ginkgo notes, its partnerships included a $122 million deal to produce cultured cannabinoids with Cronos, a $160 million partnership with Roche to identify novel antibiotics, and an $80 million investment in Synlogic to develop living medicines.

In late 2018, it launched a second spinout company, Motif Foodworks, with $117 million in funding. It spun out its first company, Joyn Bio, in 2017 to focus on sustainable agriculture practices.

“Cells are programmable similar to computers because they run on digital code in the form of DNA,” Kelly said at the time of the Series E round. “We believe Ginkgo has the best compiler and debugger for writing genetic code and we use it to program cells for customers in a range of industries. Today’s fundraise will allow us to expand our technology and continue our drive to bring biology into every physical goods industry—materials, clothing, electronics, food, pharmaceuticals, and more. They are all biotech industries but just don’t know it yet.”

Currently Ginkgo’s market valuation sits at $4 billion.

Kelly told Reuters, “As computers got cheaper, a whole host of applications became accessible. We think the same thing is true for biology. The big thing we’re trying to accomplish now is build an ecosystem for people to build apps essentially for cells.”

Ginkgo Bioworks has been marked by rapid expansion. In 2017 alone, it acquired Gen9, a printer of synthetic DNA. That year was its joint venture with Bayer. It also developed partnerships for food processing enzymes with Swissaustral and Kerry. It partnered with Synlogic to enter the pharma industry and inked a supply agreement expansion, acquiring one billion base pairs of synthetic DNA from Twist Bioscience.

In May 2019, it acquired the genome mining platform from Warp Drive Bio, a subsidiary of Revolution Medicines. In November 2018, it signed a $14 million deal with Glycosyn to optimize and scale the production of human milk oligosaccharides (hMOS) for microbial gut ecology products. In October 2018, Ginkgo opened Bioworks4, one of its biological engineering foundries—the fourth. And in June 2018, the company announced participation in a suite of U.S. government programs, establishing a strategic biosecurity initiative.

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