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Twist Bioscience Grows SynBio Business, Invests in NGS While Battling Agilent Lawsuit

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SAN FRANCISCO (GenomeWeb) – Twist Bioscience CEO Emily Leproust said this week that the company is continuing to grow its synthetic biology business building on its newly developed ability to synthesize genes up to 5 kilobases in length and the continued reduction of turnaround times.

In addition, Leproust discussed ongoing investments in the company's next-generation sequencing business that will enable it to sell its products to a wider array of customers, and noted that the company late last month filed a motion to dismiss Agilent's lawsuit against it as well as a countercomplaint.

In synthetic biology, Twist's average turnaround time for 1.8-kilobase-long genes was 14 days in the fiscal first quarter of 2019, Leproust said during a conference call with investors discussing the company's financial results.

She noted that the firm's 5-kb genes would be an important new product, even if the offering did not generate revenue immediately, because it would further differentiate Twist in the synthetic biology business and help grow the market. In addition, longer genes ultimately generate more revenue.

Leproust highlighted work the company has done with Vanderbilt University Medical Center as an example of the potential of synthetic biology. Researchers from Vanderbilt are participating in a DARPA-funded program for pandemic prevention, the objective of which is to discover and design antibody therapeutics against diseases such as Zika. The Vanderbilt team has been working with Twist on the project, which provides the researchers with synthetic genes of potential antibody candidates for the researchers to screen. In an initial test, Leproust said Twist was able to ship the majority of genes to Vanderbilt within nine business days.

While synthetic biology represents Twist's largest business vertical, it has also been investing significantly in the NGS market with its target enrichment kits. Leproust said that in fiscal Q1 2019, the company shipped NGS products to 115 customers, 18 of which are now in production mode with their kits.

She noted that the firm invested more heavily in NGS than originally anticipated after receiving greater-than-expected demand. Aside from hiring more people to support the business, the company also invested in receiving ISO 9001:2015 and 13485:2016 certifications for its quality management systems for manufacturing its target enrichment kits. The ISO certifications are a "great commercial advantage," Leprous said, "and allows us to expand our customer base since we now have the ability to support customers in more regulated markets."

Twist is also pursuing opportunities in drug discovery, using its technology to make antibody libraries, as well as in DNA data storage. Those business segments are still nascent, but Leproust said the company has already demonstrated proof of concept and is putting together a technical package that it will use to pursue partnerships.

On DNA data storage, Leproust said that the firm is making progress toward being able to develop a platform that can synthesize DNA to store terabytes of data in one day. Currently, the firm can store megabytes of data, and it has applied for a government grant to further develop its capabilities, she said.

Finally, Leproust provided a brief update on litigation with Agilent Technologies. Agilent originally filed a lawsuit against Twist, Leproust, and 20 other defendants in 2016, alleging they stole intellectual property. Last year, Agilent was granted a motion to amend its complaint.

During the call, Leproust noted that in January, Twist filed a motion to strike Agilent's amended complaint. She said that Twist also filed a complaint against Agilent, asserting six counterclaims, including that Agilent has engaged in unlawful competition, defamation, and tortious interference.

 

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