Steve O’Connell from RebelBio spoke to us about how far consumer biotech has come and synbio’s role in its democratization.
Steve Jobs famously predicted that biology would one day go the way of computing and become available to the ordinary consumer. How is it progressing? “It’s already happening,” Steve O’Connell, Associate Director of RebelBio, told Philip at Labiotech’s Refresh in June, “You can kit out home DIY biolab for roughly $1000.”
Indeed, that goal is part of the raison d’être of RebelBio, a biotech accelerator based in Cork, Ireland. Via an intense four-month program, the outfit shepherds a handful of early-stage biotech companies to seed stage, which is sometimes enough for them to bring their first products to market.
O’Connell brought up Helixworks, which RebelBio took on board in 2016. The company has since developed a platform to synthesize DNA and sell it on Amazon. “Now we’re working on drone delivery,” quipped O’Connell.
Another consumer biotech hatched by RebelBio is Cell-Free Technologies. The company engineers cells to have active ingredient which it then keeps after breaking down the cellular factory. These compounds can then be sold to consumers “the next day,” said O’Connell. “They already have interest from Microsoft for a sizeable order.”
Animal-free food is generating considerable interest in the synbio community. “SOSV is investing quite heavily in animal-free foods,” said O’Connell. “Perfect Day was the first example, and they’re doing quite well,” which is developing cow-free milk that could be on the market soon.
But, Philip asked, why now and not five years ago? O’Connell said the timing is right thanks to “the onset of CRISPR: it didn’t exist 5 years ago, but with the new technologies and the drop in sequencing costs, the democratization of science is already happening.”
He also remarked, “Illumina is scary in a good way — soon, you’ll be able to sequence a genome for $100 — it’s moving very rapidly. That’s why it’s happening now and not five years ago.”
Watch the full discussion here!