Cell engineering company Ginkgo Bioworks has acquired a startup’s technology that it believes will help create new and potentially better gene therapies.
Announced Wednesday, the deal between Ginkgo and privately held StrideBio revolves around the latter’s tools for discovering and engineering capsids — the outer shell that protects the helpful genetic material in gene therapies. Specifically, these capsids are part of what are known as adeno-associated viruses, or AAVs, which are currently the most common vehicle for shuttling gene therapies to desired targets.
Ginkgo will also receive StrideBio's existing library of capsids as part of the deal. Some of these capsids have been “extensively tested in large animal models” and “are now available for licensing and broader partnership,” according to Ginkgo.
Additionally, the company will get data and intellectual property for StrideBio’s most advanced preclinical drug, which is being investigated as a potential treatment for a rare genetic heart disease. Ginkgo said it plans to sell or outlicense the drug to a commercial partner, rather than develop it itself.
Interest and investment in gene therapy has skyrocketed over the last decade. Five of these medicines are approved in the U.S. to treat inherited diseases, and the Food and Drug Administration expects many more will come to market in the not-too-distant future.
Yet, the technology, at least in its current form, still has limitations. Developers have run into challenges like getting their therapies to the correct cells, or equipping them with the right amount of genetic payload to have the desired effect. The use of AAVs has also created problems, as patients’ immune systems sometimes see these viruses as threats and create antibodies to attack them.
Such challenges have made space for startups focused on enhancing earlier technologies. Dyno Therapeutics, for example, is trying to develop superior capsids for AAV gene therapy through a platform that harnesses artificial intelligence. The company, formed in 2018, has already raised $100 million in funding through a Series A financing round, and inked partnerships with Novartis, Roche and Sarepta Therapeutics.
Capsigen, Capsida Biotherapeutics and Ring Therapeutics are just a few of the other companies working to improve gene therapy tools.
To Ginkgo, the acquisition of StrideBio’s assets should provide a boost to its own gene therapy platform, allowing customers to “leverage new tools to effectively target many different tissue types, and potentially to improve the safety profile of their future gene therapies.”
Ginkgo, to much fanfare, joined the public markets in 2021 through a merger with a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, that valued it at $15 billion. The biotech’s shares have since lost most of their value, and as of Wednesday morning, they hovered around $1.20 apiece.