Ginkgo snares $18M contract from US government to research complex protein production

Ginkgo Bioworks, which has developed a platform for cell programming and biosecurity, has entered a contract valued at up to $18 million with the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Under the deal, the company will research the manufacturing of complex therapeutic proteins.

As part of the federal agency’s Reimagining Protein Manufacturing project, Ginkgo aims to leverage its cell-free protein synthesis technology to advance fast, high-yield production of human therapeutic proteins, the company said in a July 19 press release.

The overarching goal of the work is help shore up supply chains in the future and have the ability to meet immediate therapeutic needs in specific geographic regions, Ginkgo added.

“There is growing recognition that pharmaceutical supply chains are at risk,” Jason Kelly, co-founder and chief executive of Ginkgo, said in the release. “One way to meet this challenge is distributed manufacturing at the point of care. Imagine a future where drugs, including complex biologics, are produced locally or in a widely distributed manner on-demand.”

Therapeutic proteins with “post-translational modifications” such as antibodies, cytokines and clotting factors are important both to the biopharma marketplace and to DARPA. Currently, about half of the top-selling drugs used to treat cancer and autoimmune diseases contain such therapeutic proteins.

Those same drugs are also used to treat or prevent disease, injury or death related to chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear threats.

Also working on the team with Ginkgo are researchers from Imperial College London including Paul Freemont and Alex Koglin of Nature’s Toolbox, and consultant Michael Feldhaus, who is a former executive vice president of antibody discovery at Adimab.

In early June, Ginkgo announced a collaboration with Novo Nordisk to create novel expression hosts for pharmaceutical products. Financial terms of that collaboration weren’t disclosed.