French Startup Raises €11M in Series A to Reinvent DNA Synthesis

DNA Script Sylvain Gariel COO

DNA Script has gathered the support of key international investors to take a new, faster DNA synthesis technology closer to the market. 

In a Series A round led by Illumina Ventures and joined by Merck Ventures and existing investors Sofinnova Partners, Kurma Partners, and Idinvest Partners, the young French startup DNA Script has raised a total of €11M. With these funds and the support of major players in the field, the company plans to make its unique DNA synthesis technology ready for industrial scale-up within the next two years.

Nucleic acids have been synthesized for the last 50 years using chemical synthesis,” explains Sylvain Gariel, co-founder and COO of DNA Script. And though it works well, it presents some limitations, most notably a significant error rate and a long manufacturing time. “When you look in nature, bacteria can divide in just 20 minutes, meaning they only need 20 minutes to replicate its whole genome. With chemical synthesis, you would need months to produce the same quantity of genetic code.

Research at the DNA Script lab

According to Gariel, DNA Script’s technology could reduce this time by an order of magnitude and significantly improve the quality, simply by mimicking what nature does. The company uses engineered polymerase enzymes to create custom sequences by incorporating modified nucleotides sequentially.

The technology works rather similarly to next-generation sequencing, where the enzymatic reaction is stopped after each nucleotide is added to the chain. Gariel and Thomas Ybert, co-founder and CEO of the startup, were inspired to translate this approach from reading to writing DNA after working for the French firm Total developing biofuels, where they realized that DNA synthesis was a bottleneck when engineering S. Cerevisiae yeast.

It turned out others had similar ideas before,” says Gariel. “But only we have been successful in engineering the enzymes to make the technology work.” One of the keys to making this happen is the research team Gariel and Ybert gathered from the start, composed of scientists from the Pasteur Institute that have been working on these enzymes for over 40 years now.

DNA Script co-founders, from left to right: Thomas Ybert, Xavier Godron, and Sylvain Gariel

The goal of DNA Script now is to use its first round of funding to improve and scale up this technology. First, by improving the enzyme engineering and nucleotide chemistry to be able to manufacture them in larger quantities, and second by building an automated hardware prototype that’s efficient, robust and ready for industrial production. Within two years, Gariel expects to have a first, small-scale version ready.

A faster and more accurate DNA synthesis technology would impact the efficiency of a wide range of applications, from academic research to the pharmaceutical and chemical industry. In addition, it could bring key advantages in fields such as epigenetics. “For technical reasons, there are some epigenetic modifications that are difficult to make with chemical synthesis,” explains Gariel. “But we could easily integrate them with our technology.

If successful, the technology could also facilitate applications such as DNA data storage and even whole genome synthesis, which has already been done in bacteria by labs in New York University and Harvard. Though Gariel thinks it will be a long time until that happens, he believes it’s definitely possible.

Images via DNA Script

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