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Twist Bioscience Plots Continued Growth With NGS Product Push Into Ag-Bio, Cancer Dx


NEW YORK – Twist Bioscience is planning a push to convert more agricultural biotechnology customers from SNP arrays to its next-generation sequencing-based panels and develop products for customers working on liquid biopsy and other cancer diagnostic tests.

"Moving into fiscal year 2021, we see significant opportunity to pursue conversion in ag-bio where SNP microarrays are very common, with millions of samples processed every year," Twist CEO and Cofounder Emily Leproust said on a conference call following the firm's fiscal fourth quarter financial results. For these products, the cost per sample is less than in healthcare, "but the order volumes are much larger," she said.

To address Twist's customers in healthcare — now its top revenue-generating end market — the firm is planning to introduce unique molecular identifiers to enable multiplex indexing. "We believe this will better support people developing liquid biopsy and cancer diagnostics," Leproust said. The firm also recently launched an early-access program for its targeted methylation sequencing solution, she said.

The moves come as Twist's NGS product revenue boomed over fiscal year 2020, more than doubling to $44 million from $21 million a year ago.

"Within NGS, we believe their target enrichment products are gaining share in the marketplace, with management focused on expanding the application set for NGS into high growth markets such as liquid biopsy," SVB Leerink analyst Puneet Souda wrote in an analyst note.

Twist officials said other aspects of the company are growing, too. The firm signed four new revenue-generating biopharma partnerships in Q4. Separately, it announced positive preclinical data for SARS-CoV-2 therapeutic antibodies it developed.

Twist officials also teased business updates that would allow it to continue to scale. Leproust said the firm is planning to launch its "factory of the future" sometime in 2022. "This is the next evolution of our platform," she said, noting that the advances would bring faster turnaround times for all products. Twist is also adding a second manufacturing site outside the Bay Area, which is predicted to allow the firm to eventually scale to $500 million in annual revenues. The company is also working on a new business-to-business ordering system that would remove barriers to ordering.

In contrast to many other companies in the life science tools market, Twist provided Q1 and full year fiscal 2021 revenue guidance, anticipating annual revenue between $100 million and $118 million and a net loss between $136 million and $141 million. Souda noted that this was lower than his expectations; however, Cowen analyst Doug Schenkel wrote that the guidance was in line with his expectations.

For Q1 of fiscal 2021, Twist expects revenues between $25 million and $26 million. JP Morgan analyst Tycho Peterson wrote that was "slightly ahead of our prior forecast."

Other indicators also showed continued growth for Twist. The number of customers receiving shipments grew to approximately 2,200 from approximately 1,300 last year, for example.

The firm is also planning a 40 percent increase in R&D investment, to about $60 million for fiscal year 2021, Twist CFO Jim Thorburn said, with particular focus on the DNA data storage and biopharma segments. Twist plans to invest $15 million in DNA data storage, up from about $3 million in fiscal year 2020, and about $12 million in biopharma.

On Monday, Twist also announced positive preclinical data for three of its proprietary antibodies against the S1 protein of SARS-CoV-2. In a hamster challenge model, two single domain "nanobodies" protected against weight loss, a key indicator of disease severity, at the lowest dose of 1 mg/kg, and an IgG antibody discovered through Twist's collaboration with Vanderbilt University Medical Center was found to protect against weight loss at 5 mg/kg and 10 mg/kg.

"We are highly encouraged that the antibodies we discovered using our proprietary platform demonstrated equivalent protection against weight loss when compared to convalescent plasma in preclinical studies," Leproust said in a statement. "In addition to applicability in traditional development pathways for therapeutics and diagnostics, the small size, selectivity, and active neutralization of our single domain VHH antibodies could potentially enable new approaches to treatment, prevention, and diagnosis of COVID-19. We believe one such opportunity would be a preventive daily nasal spray that would block aerosolized particles of the SARS-CoV-2 virus from entering the nasal passage and therefore the body."