Flexible CRISPR System & Ginkgo Earnings Call: Codon News #19

Plus: CRISPR’d cats & BigHat acquires Frugi Biotechnology, a cell-free diagnostics company.

Niko McCarty
5 min readApr 1, 2022


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Hello. In this issue, a Ginkgo earnings call reveals financial packages for top executives, biotech stocks are in decline & a more flexible CRISPR system could be used to correct a wide range of disease-causing genetic variants.

Anna Sullivan | Unsplash

Flexible CRISPR

When correcting a faulty gene inside of a cell, it’s generally best to use a highly specific gene-editing tool that changes only that gene, and nothing else. Sometimes, though, a bit of flexibility goes a long way. If there are multiple single-nucleotide variants that could give rise to a single disease, for instance, it’d be nice to have one CRISPR tool that could correct all of those variants.

For a recent study, researchers at the University of Toronto show that the standard Cas9 protein “can tolerate the inclusion of universal bases in individual guide RNAs.” By swapping in a modified nucleotide — such as deoxyribose inosine — this flexible CRISPR tool can target and correct multiple different single-nucleotide polymorphisms in human cells, using a single guide RNA. The gene-editing tool was also used to build a CRISPR diagnostics platform that identified multiple different, evolved variants of the HIV protease gene in a single go.

Read more in Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News.

Ginkgo Earnings

Boston-based cell programming company, Ginkgo Bioworks, reported $314 million in total revenue in 2021 (a 309 percent increase over 2020) during an earnings call this week. The company has $1.5 billion in cash. Fourth quarter revenue, in 2021, was $148 million.

A majority of the company’s earnings came from Concentric by Ginkgo, the in-house COVID-19 testing platform that tests about 280,000 people each week and that has, thus far, conducted more than 7.2 million tests, according to a company press release.

Ginkgo Bioworks went public last year in a SPAC deal valued at $2.5 billion, according to reporting by Fierce Biotech. The company’s latest SEC filing also revealed huge financial packages for CEO Jason Kelly and President and COO Reshma Shetty — both received about $364 million in company stocks in 2021.

Read more in a company press release.

Read more at Fierce Biotech.

Wax and Wane

Biotechnology stocks are down more than 40 percent since the start of 2021, at least on the S&P Index, according to reporting by Nature Biotechnology. Private investments in biotechnology, though, have continued unabated. Just last week, two T-cell therapeutics companies (Affini-T and Triumvira) raised $275 million, together, in financing. Between 2017 and 2021, VC funding for biotech companies roughly doubled. And in 2021, a record number of biotech companies went public — 186.

There’s an obvious disconnect, then, between private backing of biotechnology companies and their actual performance after an IPO.

Read more at Nature Biotechnology.

Money Talk

United Airlines Ventures, Oxy Low Carbon Ventures and Cemvita Factory are all working together to “commercialize the production of sustainable aviation fuel” created “using carbon dioxide and synthetic microbes.” Synthetic biology flies high. PR Newswire

Despite the recent CRISPR patent ruling, companies affected by the decision — like CRISPR Therapeutics and Mammoth Biosciences — “are plowing through the fallout of the decision with little more than a collective shrug,” writes Megan Molteni. STAT

MycoTechnology, a Colorado-based company rewiring the metabolism of mushrooms to produce food ingredients, raised $85 million in Series E funding. AgFunderNews

Bon Vivant, a company using fermentation to produce dairy proteins without cows, raised €4 million to scale its R&D facilities. The company aims to compete with Perfect Day, another company producing animal proteins without the animals. Green Queen

In 2021, 2seventy bio spun off of bluebird bio, and took the FDA-approved CAR-T therapy, called Abecma, with them. Now, the company has laid off 6 percent of its staff, aiming to cut annual spending by about $30 million. Fierce Biotech

BigHat Biosciences, a California-based company using synthetic biology and machine learning to build therapeutic antibodies, has acquired Frugi Biotechnology. The latter company has a cell-free platform for diagnosing SARS-CoV-2, HIV and influenza and has a similar technology used for drug discovery. Businesswire

CellOrigin, a Chinese biotech company developing immune cell therapies by using genetic engineering and AI, raised about $15.7 million in funding. PR Newswire

Briefly Noted

Chicago-based Aqua Cultured Foods, a company using fermentation to make seafood alternatives for tuna, whitefish and shrimp, has doubled its manufacturing output thanks to “advancements in its novel fermentation technology.” Aqua Cultured Foods

A U.S. company is using CRISPR to make hypoallergenic cats. New Scientist

In recent months, scientists have used ultrasound and engineered bacteria to target and destroy tumors in the body. A feature article breaks down the history of such therapeutics, and looks towards their future. Nature

The viruses used to deliver gene therapies are “are too costly for large-scale manufacturing,” according to a recent study. Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News

Another article looks at the recent trend of companies — like LanzaTech and Cemvita Factory — that have recently announced breakthroughs in the use of engineered microbes for carbon dioxide recycling into fuels and concrete. Nature

Sangamo Therapeutics, based in California, has dosed the first patients for its phase I/II clinical trial for a CAR-Treg cell therapy, called TX200, that could help prevent rejections during kidney transplants. Yahoo Finance

Meet the ten different companies, in Europe, that are using insects or insect cells to produce medicine, vaccines and more. Labiotech

A massive, new deep dive explains partial reprogramming of cells for longevity research: history, how it works, limitations. Ada Nguyen

Israel-based BioBetter is using engineered tobacco plants to mass-produce growth factor proteins used to cultivate meat in a laboratory. PR Newswire

New details emerge about the lab leak vs. natural origin debate surrounding SARS-CoV-2, and the role that EcoHealth Alliance played in public discourse behind the scenes; a truly great piece of investigative reporting by Katherine Eban. “Having the nonprofit serve as the prime contractor for a global project with national security risks was like ‘having your rental car agency trying to run an armada,’ said the former DARPA official.” Vanity Fair

Until next time,

— Niko // @NikoMcCarty // niko@codonmag.com



Niko McCarty
Editor for

Science journalism at NYU. Previously Caltech, Imperial College. #SynBio newsletter: https://synbio.substack.com Web: https://nikomccarty.com