CHICAGO – Texas-based biotechnology and gene editing startup Colossal Biosciences on Tuesday announced the spinoff of Form Bio to commercialize the company's bioinformatics and computational biology technology platform.
Form Bio is launching with a $30 million Series A funding round, led by Jazz Venture Partners, with participation from Colossal lead investor Thomas Tull. Jazz also contributed to Colossal's $15 million seed round a year ago and to the CRISPR company's $60 million Series A round in March.
Colossal, cofounded by Harvard Medical School geneticist George Church and emerging technology and software entrepreneur Ben Lamm, launched in March 2021, making headlines worldwide with its gaudy plans to restore the long-extinct woolly mammoth and the thylacine, sometimes called the Tasmanian tiger. The company also seeks to genetically preserve endangered species for the benefit of future generations.
Kent Wakeford, co-CEO of the new firm as well as cofounder and former chief operating officer of Colossal, said that the original firm is practicing synthetic biology and applying CRISPR technology to address the loss of biodiversity.
Some 30 former Colossal employees have moved over to Form Bio. Taking the chief operating officer role at the new company is Adam Milne, who had the same role at life sciences coworking space provider BioLabs. Wakeford said that Form Bio has a team of about 35 now, including new hires from the US National Institutes of Health, Google, DNAnexus, and Pacific Biosciences.
Form Bio, which, like Colossal, is based in Dallas, is offering the software platform Colossal developed in house to aid its mission of "de-extincting" species and save extant ones. The platform, also called Form Bio, includes genome analysis and machine learning technology to identify guide RNAs to help gene-editing scientists make what Wakeford called "predictive cuts" with CRISPR.
The new firm also provides visualization tools, validated pipelines for genome assembly and gene-editing design, and an online environment for collaboration. One such pipeline is a validated workflow to analyze and visualize RNA sequencing data, according to Claire Aldridge, chief strategy officer of Form Bio, who had the same title at Colossal.
"When we founded Colossal Biosciences along with George Church in our partnership with Harvard University, we saw the opportunity to leverage the power of data and analysis to accelerate all the biology discovery processes that they were doing," Wakeford said. "From a software and data science perspective, we saw the [chance] to accelerate what the labs were doing at Harvard and the Wyss Institute around CRISPR and genome assembly."
Wakeford said that Colossal executives noticed around the beginning of 2022 that the software might have a "much broader application for human health and for synthetic biology as a whole," so executives started thinking about a spinoff. "It is this entire growing bioeconomy that we are addressing with our tools and our data pipelines and machine learning and visualization," he said.
Form Bio is the first in a planned series of spinoffs from Colossal. While the firm did not offer details on future spinoffs, it has said that its strategy includes the commercialization of scientific breakthroughs made on the journey to restoring extinct species.
According to Form Bio, its platform is meant to be user-friendly and customizable by scientists without a bioinformatics background.
"Form Bio is the missing piece in scientific discovery," Colossal CEO Ben Lamm said in a statement. "After reviewing everything available on the market, we chose to create our own software solution. Now, we want to share this modern, comprehensive platform with the broader community to impact other areas of scientific innovation, including human health."
Aldridge said that the software incorporates three components: traditional bioinformatic analysis, machine learning, and an enhanced user experience. Form is working with or talking to biotech firms, including Colossal, to understand their specific scientific needs "so that we know we're solving problems that are actually in the marketplace."
The new company did not disclose the names of current or potential customers beyond Colossal, but Aldridge said that the technology is largely aimed at biotech companies that are understaffed in the area of bioinformatics. "It becomes a rate-limiting step for a lot of the analysis that you need to do," she said.
Aldridge said that Form Bio automates repetitive work that typically would be performed by informatics cores at biotech companies and take days or weeks to complete. "Now you can get it back within a day by using our platform," she said. "It's really about how we free up the scientists and the bioinformatics experts to do the work that they're really trained to do and take off their plate some of this more rote work."
Wakeford said that the gains come from machine learning and artificial intelligence, particularly in the area of candidate validation for biomanufacturing. "We think this is going to help accelerate all of the biomanufacturing that's happening," he said, bringing down the cost of developing next-generation gene and cell therapies.
Form Bio is fully cloud-based, largely built on the Google Cloud Platform but suitable for use on any cloud. "We are cloud-agnostic and support any of the cloud environments," Wakeford said.
"If [end users] have other workflows like Nextflow workflows that they want to bring onto the platform and make it available, they can import things," Wakeford added. "We're trying to be as flexible [as possible] for what we see as the next generation of science operating system for this industry."