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Twist Bioscience Hits Technical Milestone for DNA Data Storage

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NEW YORK – Twist Bioscience has succeeded in generating 200 base pair oligonucleotides on chips it is designing for use in DNA-based data storage.

The chips, which have packed Twist's DNA-making 300 nm nanowell features 1 µm apart, a measurement known as pitch, are the penultimate step towards making chips viable for commercial applications, according to the firm, which the company believes will require 150 nm pitch.

Twist first disclosed the existence of the 1 µm chips earlier this year and recently succeeded in making 200 base pair oligos, CEO and cofounder Emily Leproust said on a conference call with investors on Thursday following the release of the firm's financial results.

"It's quite an achievement to get there," Leproust said. "It's the longest DNA on the smallest feature of silicon ever… There's a few more experiments to do and a few more milestones to reach around speed of synthesis, quality, and cost, but it's definitely a huge step to make 200 base pair oligos."

A functional 1 µm chip would enable a price of about $1,000 per gigabyte, Cowen analyst Doug Schenkel wrote in a research note. "The long-term goal of a 150 nm chip would enable data storage at about $100 per terabyte," he noted.

The milestone was one of several updates Leproust provided on the firm's push to create a market for DNA-based data storage. She also gave updates on the firm's biopharma business and global markets.

DNA-based data storage has been part of Twist's plans even before going public in 2018. Over the last five years, the company has become a leader in the field, forming alliances with both researchers and other companies in computing and biotechnology.

Last November, for example, Twist helped found a DNA data storage alliance, co-led with Illumina, digital storage firm Western Digital, and Microsoft, that has now grown to 29 members, Leproust said. Data firm Quantum joined in Q2 while PFU America and Quantitative Scientific Solutions joined last month. 

Soon, the alliance will issue a white paper, she said, that will showcase "a growing appreciation for an alternative method of storage." Television and movie production archiving, among other forms of cultural preservation, will be one of the first applications, she said, along with industrial data storage required for regulatory reasons.

However, initially, DNA "will be used as supplemental storage to augment current capabilities," she said.

How long it would take to develop a 150 nm chip and how soon Twist could begin generating revenue from DNA data storage is unclear. The company started with a chip with features 50 µm apart, and reached 10 µm last year, Leproust said.

"We have more work to do on the 1 µm chip," a Twist spokesperson said in an email. "We have not detailed any intermediate milestones between 1 µm and 150 nm."

"It's important to debug issues at each stage and take those learnings on to the next, so we will continue working with the 1 µm chip while designing the next chip," the spokesperson wrote. "Once we get to 150 nm, we will take the working chip and scale that up to production — that is the step that we will only pursue for the final chip."

"Although we are encouraged by the progress, we are still not modeling in revenue until 2024," SVBLeerink analyst Puneet Souda wrote in a research note.

Leproust also noted that Twist's biopharma division, which is primarily involved in antibody discovery, now has 21 partners advancing 25 active programs. Of those, partnerships with terms for milestone payments, royalties, or both have increased from 10 to 17. Nine projects are complete with antibodies "in the hands of customers," she said.

She also noted that Twist has signed three new customers in the Asia Pacific region, a market she believes "holds untapped potential for our NGS solutions."

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