By Eduardo Longoria
Boston-based Ginkgo Bioworks has received a $1.1 billion investment from the US government’s International Development Finance Corp (DFC) for COVID-19 testing and the production of raw materials to fight pandemics in the future. Ginkgo is currently responsible for the production of components for Moderna’s messenger RNA vaccine and coronavirus tests.
“Because we haven’t faced a global pandemic in 100 years, we haven’t had a global biosecurity infrastructure,” Ginkgo Chief Executive Officer Jason Kelly said in an interview. “What excites me about this loan is that we can help to build it.”
Ginkgo, which calls itself an organism company and is a shining example of biomanufacturing in the US. They produce the messenger RNA used in the production of messenger RNA vaccines that are now at the cutting edge of anti-viral vaccinations.
Ginkgo commonly uses automated machinery in their laboratories known as “foundries” and brings factory-style processes to biotechnology. Ginkgo’s automated laboratories are used in various applications across health, agriculture, and consumer products and have repurposed its platform for COVID-19 relief efforts this year.
These foundries offer Ginkgo the opportunity to produce around the clock and at a much larger scale than they would be able to and be much more able to support anti-COVID-19 efforts. This ability has never been more useful than in the implementation of Ginkgo’s Concentric program. Concentric is intended to provide widespread, routine testing by building the end-to-end logistics and scale for COVID-19 tests. These tests include rapid antigen tests and RT-PCR, with pooled surveillance testing coming soon.
Ginkgo has received $789.1 million in funding from non-DFC sources as of its series F round in May and is valued at $4.5 billion. Their investors include Bill Gates’s private investment firm Cascade Investment and hedge fund Viking Global.
Ginkgo Bioworks has a single venture fund, The Ferment Fund, as of Oct 9, 2019, and has raised a total of $350 million. So far, it has made five investments and had one exit, which was Synlogic, the living medicines company that collaborated with its strategic platforms in 2019.
Under the Defense Production Act (DPA), in coordination with the U.S. Departments of Defense (DOD) and Health and Human Services (HHS), the DFC supports domestic initiatives that will aid in the fight against COVID-19 within the United States.
It earlier proposed a $765 million loan to Eastman Kodak Co. to support the latter’s move into pharmaceutical manufacturing. However, this proposal came under fire after it was known that Kodak’s CEO received company stock options prior to the announcement. An independent legal review later cleared the executive of wrongdoing. The DFC also announced a $590 million loan to ApiJect Systems Corp. to help manufacture pre-filled injectors used in vaccine production.
Importance of Biomanufacturing
Biomanufacturing is the production of biological materials on a large scale. Similar to mechanical or electronic devices, biotechnology products also require their base components to be manufactured elsewhere.
Companies like Ginkgo produce building blocks for myriad medications, textiles, medical devices, and agricultural technologies. As the field advances and more uses are found for biological components in everyday products, the requirements for biomanufacturing services will increase. Therefore, companies like Ginkgo have a bright future to look forward to.
By Eduardo Longoria
Editor: Rajaneesh K. Gopinath, Ph.D.