Next week SynBioBeta will return to London for its third year, supporting and showcasing the burgeoning field of synthetic biology. John Cumbers, founder of SynBioBeta, takes the opportunity to reflect on the explosive growth of the industry since he launched the conference three years ago and what you can expect from this year’s offering.
Three years ago, the UK Department for Business, Innovation & Skills identified “Eight Great Technologies” as strategic areas that the government would invest in, seeing them as future engines of economic growth. One of those key areas was synthetic biology, and not long after the BioIndustry Association (BIA) formed a new group to support companies working on this emerging area. The field of synthetic biology hopes to make biology easier and faster to engineer, offering the potential to address some of the major technological challenges of our century- energy, agriculture, environment and healthcare. The market is already growing at a substantial rate. Globally, the sector has exceeded £1.8 billion and is slated to quadruple over the next five years.
A couple of years back, synthetic biology was seen merely as an academic pursuit with only a handful of companies in the sector. To give you an example of how participation in this field has grown, this April at the SynBioBeta conference in London, over 45 emerging and established companies will be exhibiting.
I started SynBioBeta out of my living room because I wanted to create a platform for synthetic biology entrepreneurs to gather, share ideas, and learn how to overcome hurdles in a still uncertain landscape. I joked at our first meeting in 2012 that it was a ‘self-help group’ for synthetic biology startups. I had to beg investors to speak on stage. No one wanted to invest or even discuss investing in the field.
In the last 12 months alone, some of those first attendees have made impressive investment announcements and our meetings are no longer geared just toward startups. Some of our initial attendees from that meeting who have had great success in the last 12 months are Twist Bioscience who has raised $26 million in a series B, while Ginkgo Bioworks and Synthace have raised $9 million and £2.2 million respectively in series A’s and newcomer Riffyn, who recently raised a $1.8 million seed round.
My team and I have been running SynBioBeta events at Imperial for the last two years, and have had the pleasure to be invited to return for a third. Our host SynbiCITE, funded by the UK government, is an Innovation and Knowledge Centre dedicated to promoting the industrial adoption of synthetic biology. It was started by Professors Richard Kitney and Paul Freemont, bioengineers from Imperial College London, and has newly appointed a CEO Steve Chambers.
The conference will include a broad range of participants from the UK, US, and other countries across Europe with representation from a variety of industries including automation, pharma and healthcare, food and agriculture, and more.
This year, Emily Leproust, the founder and CEO of Twist Bioscience, will be giving the keynote address. She’ll discuss the company’s DNA synthesis platform expected to launch later this year. This is an unprecedented occasion as it will be the first time anyone from Twist has spoken about the platform in public. In addition, we will have exciting new product launches from Synbiota, which makes user-friendly genetic engineering kits, and Glowing Plant, one of the first consumer-focused synthetic biology products.
We also have some impressive UK investors speaking at the event. Andy Smith of Mann Bioinvest will be discussing biotech startups and what he looks for in the companies he funds. Meanwhile, Oliver Sexton, investment manager of the £24 million Rainbow Seed Fund, will describe why he’s excited about the next generation of synthetic biology companies.
Together, we as innovators and investors in synthetic biology have come a long way since the first SynBioBeta conference in 2012. As stronger automation platforms come into play and the price of DNA synthesis drops, these new tools will speed up the designàbuildàtest cycle to bring the vision of an engineerable biology ever closer. SynBioBeta will be there, along with the BIA to nurture the synthetic biology community and build partnerships within the industry and beyond.
You can learn more about the SynBioBeta London conference at www.synbiobeta.com