Fruit Flies Test Cancer Treatments

A London company, called Vivan Therapeutics, is using genetically-engineered fruit flies to figure out which drugs are most likely to work for cancer patients.

This is from Codon, my weekly newsletter. Subscribe for free.

The ideal scientist thinks like a poet and only later works like a bookkeeper.

E.O. Wilson

📰 Bioengineering in the News

Writing these little quips is more painful than you think.

FLY TEST SUBJECTS: A London company, called Vivan Therapeutics, is using genetically-engineered fruit flies to figure out which drugs are most likely to work for cancer patients. “By giving hundreds of thousands of fruit flies the same cancer mutations as in a human patient,” writes Michele Cohen Marill, the company “can run thousands of drug screens in parallel, testing to see which are the most effective—and in what combinations—for combatting that particular tumor.” WIRED. Link

GINKGO ON 60 MINUTES: Boston-based bioengineering behemoth, Ginkgo Bioworks, was featured in a 60 Minutes news segment. CEO Jason Kelly talked vaccine manufacturing. 60 Minutes. Link

MOUTHFEEL MEAT: Tokyo researchers cultured “millimeter-sized chunks of meat” that had a mouthfeel similar to steak. To do that, they electrically stimulated myoblasts from cows to massage the muscles in the perfect way. Bon appétit! press release. Link

NO MORE DEAD COWS: Look in your medicine cabinet. Do you have any chondroitin sulfate? It’s used to reduce swelling in joints, and the only way to get it is to grind up some cow tracheas. For a new study in Nature Communications, though, researchers engineered E. coli to produce the molecule instead. Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News. Link

THERAPEUTIC CIRCUITS: Mark Budde will lead a group at Caltech studying “synthetic biology circuits for human therapies,” together with the Elowitz lab. And he’s hiring! Twitter (lol). Link

CRISPR CLINICAL TRIALS: This article gives a rundown on current CRISPR trials, and talks about where they are headed. Innovative Genomics Institute. Link

DNA ALLIANCE: Twist, Microsoft, Illumina and Western Digital have formed a “DNA Data Storage Alliance.” The goal? Organize the DNA storage industry, and scale up. Nature. Link

MEATLESS MAFIA: An article in Forbes features four companies that are making meatless foods: Wild Earth, Impossible Foods, Atlast Food Co. and Air Protein. Forbes. Link

J&J ONE SHOT: The one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine—which can be shipped in an ordinary refrigerator—received FDA support in the US this week. MIT Technology Review. Link

J&J DOSES: A “little-known” company in Maryland, called Emergent BioSolutions, will manufacture the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The two companies have a five-year manufacturing agreement, worth $480M in the first two years, according to reporting by Forbes. Link

DNA DISPARITIES: “In 2018, people of European ancestry made up more than 78 percent of GWAS participants.” Is (a lack of) diversity a problem for DNA databases? Science News. Link

MACAQUE GENOME: The genomes of hundreds of rhesus macaques—taken together—now offer the “most complete macaque reference genome.” Spectrum. Link

CRISPR CHAT: In a Q&A, Tony Ho, the CEO of CRISPR Therapeutics, explains why CRISPR is preferred over other gene-editing options for gene therapies. Link

More (Weird) Stories…

DANCE YOUR PHD: Did you know there was an annual “Dance Your PhD” competition? Neither did I. The overall winners this year are atmospheric scientists, from Helsinki, who rapped about molecular clusters. My favorite line: “I am the first author, and you're just et al.” Ars Technica. Link

RANDOM NUMBERS: There is a new “fastest random-number generator.” It uses a laser to generate “quantum randomness at a rate of 250 trillion bits per second.” Nature. Link

Fruit fly on a leaf. [Credit: nuzree | Pixabay]

💳Industry Updates

Caribou Biosciences (Berkeley, Ca.), a Doudna lab spin out, raised $115 million in a Series C funding round. The company is using their IP, in part, to create immune cell cancer therapies. Business Wire. Link

eGenesis (Cambridge, Ma.), a xenotransplantation company co-founded by George Church, raised $125 million in a series C round. The company is developing organs for human transplants from animals. Globe Newswire. Link

Miroculus (San Francisco, Ca.) extended their series B, raising a total of $45 million. The company plans to commercially launch their first product soon, which will use microfluidics to automate things like library prep for high-throughput sequencing experiments. qb3. Link

Molecular Assemblies (San Diego, Ca.) will receive about $6.5 million from the DARPA NOW (Nucleic Acids On-Demand Worldwide) project. The enzymatic DNA synthesis company will use the funds, generally, for a “scalable and deployable mobile platform” that could potentially help build vaccines on-site during a pandemic. PR Newswire. Link

Phenotypeca (Nottingham, UK) raised £300,000 in seed funding. This start-up sounds really interesting; they’re a yeast biofoundry that optimizes strains to manufacture “therapeutic proteins, vaccines and diagnostics.” SynBioBeta. Link

Provivi (Santa Monica, Ca.) got $10 million from the Gates Foundation. That money will go towards a “pheromone-based insect control technology” for farmers in developing nations. Chemical and Engineering News. Link

SalioGen Therapeutics (Burlington, Ma.) launched this week with $20 million in series A funds. The company uses a mammalian enzyme to insert DNA into genomes; it’s what CEO Ray Tabibiazar calls a “paste function,” rather than CRISPR’s cut function. Boston Business Journal. Link

Tenaya Therapeutics (San Francisco, Ca.) raised $106 million in series C funds. The company is developing gene therapies for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, and will also make an AAV manufacturing facility. Business Wire. Link

Twist Bioscience (San Francisco, Ca.) and Watchmaker Genomics (Boulder, Co.) are teaming up to research topics that can be advanced by high-throughput sequencing, including oncology and inherited disease detection. The CEO of Watchmaker, Trey Foskett, also happens to be the co-founder of Kapa Biosystems, the PCR reagent company that was bought by Roche in 2015. Bloomberg. Link

Until next time,