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From Vendor to Partner: Codon Devices Inks First Deal

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Formed in late 2004, Codon Devices is still a relative newcomer to the field. But that hasn’t stopped it from shooting to be a leader in the gene synthesis industry — and with a recent deal with ag biotech Agrivida under its belt, the startup is certainly taking steps toward that goal.

With co-founders including George Church, Drew Endy, Jay Keasling, and Joseph Jacobson, it’s no wonder Codon already has a bevy of customers and has also played a critical role in trying to shape the education and regulatory environment surrounding gene synthesis.

The technology underpinning the company enables it to produce “custom genetic constructs very quickly and very cheaply,” says CEO John Danner. That allows researchers to “simply specify a DNA sequence or amino acid sequence and just order that,” he adds. “No longer are researchers handcuffed to a natural template” like those required for recombinant DNA technology or cloning.

Already, Danner says, adoption has been “quite rapid.” And the deal with Agrivida marks a significant expansion of Codon from simply a synthetic construct provider to a research partner. Agrivida, which had already been a customer of Codon’s, works in the biofuels space and was looking for enzymes to boost the ethanol-production capacity of corn. Danner says the alliance came about when “we realized that we could perhaps help them with the design and with the selection of an optimally performing construct.”

It was a natural step for Codon, which already has an engineering process developed to “feed what we’ve learned from [construct] selection back into the construct design” to optimize for factors such as binding efficiency, Danner says. Codon is also working on deals similar to this biofuel partnership that would give the company a role in agricultural and therapeutic applications as well. “We really view this as the beginning of more deals that you’ll see like this as we continue to build our company out,” Danner adds.

Beyond that, the minds behind Codon Devices are also focused on helping shape the synthetic biology field as a whole. “We have really taken any concerns about this new space very, very seriously,” Danner says. “We reached out to other leading gene synthesis companies and formed … the International Consortium for Polynucleotide Synthesis,” a group that aims to provide education about synthetic biology and work with government agencies to develop appropriate regulations and safe practices for the field. Codon wants to be “extremely responsible in making sure that this technology is properly embraced by broader society,” Danner says.

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