Twist Bioscience manufactures DNA. On this planet of synthetic biology—a booming discipline that seeks to develop, harvest, and ferment new sustainable items—customized DNA is a key ingredient. Earlier than the pandemic hit, Twist noticed its inventory value almost triple since its IPO in 2018.
How is that this pillar of the booming artificial biology trade weathering the Covid-19 disaster? I spoke lately with two leaders at Twist to study extra.
An early pioneer of DNA synthesis, Emily Leproust co-founded Twist Bioscience and serves as its CEO and director. She grew up in France and accomplished a Ph.D. in natural chemistry on the College of Houston. Leproust’s mother and father had been entrepreneurs—her uncle was the CEO of a giant international import and export firm. This impressed a younger Leproust to assume past her dwelling nation and to consider entrepreneurship from a worldwide perspective.
Inside Twist Bioscience, Aaron Sato serves as Chief Scientific Officer (CSO) at Twist Biopharma. He attended MIT, incomes a Ph.D. in organic chemistry whereas finding out the immune system. Sato labored at numerous drug discovery firms earlier than becoming a member of Twist, and is aware of first-hand lots of the bottlenecks in drug improvement.
Responding to the pandemic
Coronavirus has modified operations on the firm in two methods, Leproust tells me.
First, whereas Twist is striving to take care of its pre-pandemic timelines for delivering its regular DNA merchandise, it has additionally added new merchandise to its lineup. These embrace new artificial bits of RNA that may function controls for extensively used diagnostic exams for Covid-19. “We’ve additionally launched respiratory controls which we consider shall be vital for the upcoming flu season,” says Leproust.
Second, like most different firms, the pandemic pressured Twist to maintain most staff at dwelling. “Whereas that is difficult, our staff are devoted and make use of one in all our guiding rules: grit.”
Antibodies to the rescue?
Twist’s fundamental product—top quality, customized DNA—is being utilized in analysis labs round which are trying to develop remedies for Covid-19. Antibodies, which many consultants consider are among the many most promising drug molecules, require customized DNA blueprints to be made.
There are lots of makes use of for antibodies throughout a pandemic, Sato tells me. As therapeutics, they can be utilized to both to deal with an infection instantly or to mitigate a few of its worst signs. However antibodies also can play a diagnostic function. “The correct antibody pair could possibly be included in a check to find out is an individual has Covid-19 or not,” says Sato.
Such exams, if developed, would lastly permit the U.S. to get its arms across the pandemic. As a substitute of ready days for outcomes, a fast antibody check may ship solutions in minutes. The important thing, nevertheless, is creating the proper antibodies at scale.
“Twist could make a whole bunch of 1000’s of various genes rapidly. Principally, this enables us to make numerous antibody clones as a part of a workflow. And Twist could make unprecedented artificial gene libraries, that are a incredible instrument for antibody discovery,” says Sato.
By its business partnerships, Twist Biopharma, a division inside Twist Bioscience, is making new antibodies with customized properties simpler to create.
“From my perspective, [large-scale] DNA synthesis has at all times been a bottleneck —till I joined Twist,” says Sato. “Having constructed my workflow from the bottom up primarily based on Twist customized DNA merchandise, the Twist Biopharma workflow just isn’t DNA-constrained and is simply restricted by our capability to check antibodies, which is an effective downside to have.”
A complete method to the pandemic
Twist has put its antibody experience to work in a complete means, making several new research products available to the community. These embrace the instruments wanted to make diagnostic exams for Covid and coronavirus, reference requirements which are essential for ensuring coronavirus exams are correct, and instruments for creating each vaccines and coverings.
For the approaching flu season, Twist lately launched an all-in-one respiratory panel to assist well being staff differentiate amongst completely different respiratory ailments. This shall be essential for medical doctors to have the ability to distinguish between Covid-19 and different seasonal viruses. The panel can detect amongst SARS-CoV-2, a number of different coronaviruses, influenzas, rhinoviruses and respiratory syncytial virus.
Twist is also a part of the $5 million XPRIZE Rapid Covid Testing competition to speed up the event of high-quality Covid-19 testing that’s low value, simple to make use of, and fast-turnaround, enabling frequent testing. Twist is a supporting companion alongside such notables as Google
And Twist has partnered with Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) to cut back the time it takes to go from outbreak to clinic-ready remedy in 60 days, versus the usual timeline of 1 to 2 years. VUMC has provided Twist Biopharma with numerous antibody sequences from a affected person who had recovered from COVID-19. Twist makes use of its distinctive antibody workflow to determine which of those antibodies have the best potential as remedy to broadly shield different individuals who might turn into contaminated with the virus.
Firing on all cylinders
Regardless of the pandemic, Leproust stays a devoted entrepreneur. And now greater than ever, she says artificial biology must ship.
“We proceed to serve our clients who’re creating therapeutics, vaccines, and diagnostics by means of our main merchandise,” she tells me. “Our biopharma division has recognized many antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 — each to the virus itself and to the receptor on human cells that grant its entry. We look ahead to reporting progress on all fronts.”
Observe me on Twitter at @johncumbers and @synbiobeta. Subscribe to my weekly newsletters in synthetic biology. Thanks to Ian Haydon for added analysis and reporting on this article. I’m the founding father of SynBioBeta, and a few of the firms that I write about—together with Twist Bioscience—are sponsors of the SynBioBeta conference and weekly digest. Here’s the full list of SynBioBeta sponsors.