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Kura Biotech Eyes US Genomics Market With PCR, DNA Synthesis Enzyme Portfolio


NEW YORK – Chilean life sciences company Kura Biotech is setting foot into the US genomics market with new enzymes developed for next-generation sequencing applications and DNA synthesis.

The company recently unveiled its genomics brand, Blikka, and is hoping to target the US and other markets with its polymerases, which the firm claims to be cheaper than existing products while having comparable performance.

"Enzymes are key for library prep and amplification of DNA libraries, and we believe that we can [make] a better enzyme than what is currently on the market for a better price," said Shervin Kamkar, VP of genomics business development at Kura.

The company’s first offering for NGS applications is a high-fidelity polymerase for PCR reactions, Kamkar said. Dubbed DeCodi-Fi, the recombinant hot-start polymerase promises to have "exceptionally low amplification bias and provides consistent sequencing coverage," according to Kura’s website.

The company also claims that the polymerase can tackle genomic DNA libraries with low and high GC content (32 percent to 73 percent GC) with low bias. Additionally, it says the enzyme can work with DNA input amounts as low as 0.1 ng and still achieve high specificity and yield. Lastly, DeCodi-Fi can deliver amplicons up to 23 kb in size, according to the firm.

Kura is stepping into a crowded US market where there is no shortage of HiFi enzyme suppliers, including the legacy reagent companies, such as New England Biolabs, Roche, Agilent Technologies, Thermo Fisher Scientific, Qiagen, and Takara Bio. Therefore, it remains to be seen how the company’s product will fare among competitors.

In internal benchmarking experiments, DeCodi-Fi showed "equivalent if not better performance" compared with current market-leading high-fidelity polymerases in major metrics, Kamkar said, such as error rate, coverage, and fragment length. However, the company has yet to publish these results, and there is scant data from customers publicly available.

Kura is currently offering the DeCodi-Fi polymerase as part of two kits: the DeCodi-Fi High-Fidelity PCR Kit and the DeCodi-Fi All-in-One Mix, both of which provide reagents for 400 reactions. The DeCodi-Fi PCR kit includes a 5X reaction buffer for amplifying DNA templates with balanced GC content and a 5X GC-rich buffer for amplifying high-GC targets. Meanwhile, the All-in-One kit provides users, in a proprietary buffer, with all reagents required for PCR reactions except primers and template.

In addition to performance, Kamkar said cost is another competitive advantage of the company’s polymerase, given the lower production cost in Chile. "Our enzyme is equivalent to, if not better than, the market leaders, but really, it has a better value because of its costs," he noted. He declined to disclose the list price for the DeCodi-Fi kits, however. 

Kura also has a "robust supply chain" in the US, he added, including a distribution center in Atlanta, which enables the company to deliver products to US customers quickly.

Kamkar said one important goal for the company is to forge partnerships with other sample prep companies and become their enzyme supplier, adding that Kura has no immediate plans to become a sample prep kit manufacturer itself.

"We are trying to enable other library prep companies," he said. "We can build enzymes rapidly, we can iterate rapidly, we can improve those enzymes, but we can also deliver those enzymes at lower costs."

Similarly, by leveraging its protein engineering platform and manufacturing capabilities, the company can help partners develop enzymes for other NGS applications besides PCR, he added.

Beyond NGS polymerases, Kura has also developed terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferases (TdT) for enzymatic DNA synthesis. The company is currently offering a so-called Accel-TdT partnership program, which, according to its website, "offers a diverse collection of TdT enzymes sourced from artificial chimeric origins." It can further develop and evolve these TdT enzymes to meet customers' specific needs.

With limited benchmarking data out in public, it is unclear, however, how the performance of Kura’s TdT enzymes compares to other TdTs developed or utilized by various enzymatic DNA synthesis firms, such as DNA Script, Twist Biosciences, Ansa Biotechnologies, and Molecular Assemblies. The latter uses a version of TdT engineered by Codexis.

Kamkar said the company has inked several partnerships for its TdT enzymes but declined to disclose details. Kura plans to release a panel of TdTs that each has unique characteristics for different applications toward the end of the year, he added.

Based in northern Patagonia, Kura was established about 10 years ago, initially developing enzymes for drug toxicology testing. The company previously developed a recombinant β-glucuronidase for urine toxicology analysis by evolving an enzyme identified in red abalone, a type of sea snail, using its protein engineering platform, Kamkar said. That enzyme was also marketed in the US.

During the pandemic, Kura also established a COVID testing business unit, named Avenire, which offers an isothermal PCR screening test and a diagnostic PCR test. That branch has since expanded into food testing for foodborne pathogens, Kamkar noted.

Currently, Kura employs about 70 employees across its business units, including a mix of scientists, sales, and marketing experts, as well as business development staff. While the company is mostly based in Chile, some of its commercial team members, including Kamkar, are based in the US. Kura is currently self-funded by its revenues and is not backed by any venture capital, he noted.

As Kura continues to ramp up its genomics business, Kamkar said the goal for his team is to continue expanding its commercial presence and "eventually have more of a footprint in the US." Besides enzymes for NGS and DNA synthesis, he said the team also welcomes all types of enzyme development projects leveraging its protein engineering platform.

"We are a protein engineering company, and we are open to working with anybody if they want us to optimize an existing enzyme or want us to help them develop a novel enzyme for an application," Kamkar said.