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Twist Bioscience Expands Synbio, Genomics; Explores Biopharma, DNA Data Storage Opportunities

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NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – Twist Bioscience continues to grow its synthetic biology and genomics/next-gen sequencing business segments as it is exploring partnerships with biopharmaceutical companies and new opportunities in DNA storage.

During a conference call to discuss the firm's fiscal year 2019 second quarter financial results, Twist CFO Jim Thorburn said that the company has been expanding its synbio business way beyond its largest customer, Gingko. During the quarter, for example, it took orders for genes, libraries, and oligonucleotide pools from about 780 customers and shipped products to more than 600 customers, he said.

CEO Emily Leproust explained during the call that the company has also reduced turnaround times for its synbio products and now beats the average 15-day turnaround time of competitors. It now takes 13 days on average for genes up to 1.8 kb in length and 14 days for longer genes to be produced, including those measuring 5 kb.

"It used to be that when we talked to customers, we heard that they loved our price and our product, but that we were slower than the competition," Leproust said. "Now, we routinely hear that we have the best offering, affordable price, great quality, and rapid turnaround time."

Partially as a result of this faster production, she said, the number of orders in the second quarter increased almost four times over the year-ago quarter.

Twist plans to introduce new synbio products later this year, she added, which she expects will drive growth in this area in 2020.

Regarding the genomics and targeted NGS business, Twist took orders from 137 customers during the second quarter and shipped target enrichment products to more than 100 customers, of whom 24 now use them in sequencing production. In addition, 42 customers are currently in pilot and validation stages and may move up to production in the future.

Leproust said that the NGS business has been growing faster than anticipated, however Twist expects "some ongoing lumpiness" in that business going forward.

She also pointed out that the firm launched several new genomics products at the Advances in Genome Biology and Technology meeting in February, including automation and high-throughput analysis solutions and a fast hybridization kit that shortens the hybridization step to as little as 15 minutes, from 16 hours, which she called "a potential game changer for the industry."

Also at AGBT, several customers presented their experience with Twist's NGS panels, she said, and a Broad Institute researcher revealed that the institute is switching to Twist's enrichment probes for all its genomics experiments.

"Initially, the Broad was using Twist for liquid biopsy, an exciting new area of testing that can provide information about cancer through a blood sample rather than a clinical biopsy. From this initial project, they switched to Twist for all of their exome needs," Leproust said. "This conversion is a significant demonstration of the quality, value, and benefit we bring to the industry and we are excited that this thought leader has made the decision to switch."

In addition, she said, consumer genomics firm Helix is now using Twist's target enrichment panels in its enhanced exome production for tests that include the GenePrism genetic disease risk test it offers in collaboration with PerkinElmer Genomics.

To expand its genomics business further and attract new pilot customers, Twist plans to extend its e-commerce platform, which it has been using for synbio products so far, to its genomics products starting next week.

Twist's biopharma business is also starting to take shape. Last month, the company presented proof-of-concept data for its GPCR library antibody optimization solution at the Essential Protein Engineering Summit (PEGS), Leproust said, showing that it can develop antibodies with nanomolar affinities and with different modes of action to modulate GPCR activity, and saw "high levels of interest" in its technology.

In addition, Twist signed two agreements with biopharmaceutical firms last month: a strategic collaboration with LakePharma to provide antibody discovery and development services and an antibody optimization agreement with Pandion Therapeutics.

"In parallel with the work we are providing for our partners, we are building our data package to target larger partnerships," Leproust said. "While we do expect it to take some time to solidify these partnerships, we believe it is a viable pathway to create long-term value for our shareholders."

On the DNA data storage side, Twist has entered negotiations for a government contract. "While there are no guarantees that we will receive funding under this contract, and while we expect negotiations to take about six months, we believe this is a positive next step," Leproust said.

The company remains on track to move to a larger manufacturing facility in South San Francisco, which she said is not expected to cause any disruptions to its gene synthesis business but will affect production for its NGS business for about a week, which the company does not expect to have a material effect on turnaround time.

Along with the move into the new facility, Twist plans to extend its ISO 9001:2015 and ISO 13485:2016 certifications and has already scheduled the audit for this, expecting it to be completed in late 2019.

Twist is also in the process of building out a manufacturing space in China, which it expects to be ready in the fall and start shipping products later this year. "We continue to believe that having a Chinese facility to make DNA in China for China will allow us to rapidly enter this market," Leproust said.

Company officials did not provide any update on the ongoing litigation with Agilent Technologies during the call. 

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