BioPharma, Startups

CRISPR toolmaker Synthego raises $110M Series C led by Peter Thiel’s VC fund

The financing, led by Thiel’s Founders Fund, will help the company expand its reach into Europe and Asia while building up its manufacturing capabilities.

A company that develops products for research in CRISPR gene editing technology has received a new round of funding led by a large Silicon Valley venture capital firm.

Synthego, based in Redwood City, California, said Tuesday that it had closed a $110 million Series C funding round, led by Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund. Existing investors 8VC and Menlo Ventures also participated in the round.

Founders Fund also led the company’s Series A funding round, COO Ted Tisch noted in a phone interview. That round, closed in 2013, totaled $8.3 million and also saw participation from Menlo Ventures and WI Harper Group, according to Crunchbase. 8VC led the $41 million Series B round, closed in January 2017, with Founders Fund and several others participating.

The company said it plans to use the funding to further develop its existing product lines, Engineered Cells and CRISPRevolution, while also expanding manufacturing and expanding its market in Europe and Asia. Tisch said the company’s business model is meant to create a “virtuous cycle” to allow researchers and scientists to access gene editing products and tools, apply them to therapies and eventually bring prices of those therapies down. “One of our missions here is to make it easier to use gene therapy,” he said.

Currently, there is one gene therapy available, Spark Therapeutics’ Luxturna (voretigene neparvovec-rzyl), for a rare form of blindness, which costs $850,000. Also sometimes classified as gene therapies are CAR-T cell therapies for cancers, which cost between $373,000 and $475,000 for the product alone, not including supportive care costs. However, none of the currently available products was developed using CRISPR technology. Although one of the pioneering researchers behind CRISPR, Jennifer Doudna of the University of California Berkeley, is a member of Synthego’s advisory board, Tisch said the company is not disclosing whether it has licensed technology from UC Berkeley, and Doudna’s presence on the panel should not be taken as a sign that it has. Last month, Berkeley found itself on the losing side of a patent interference lawsuit it filed against its competitor, The Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts – run by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University – when the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled in The Broad’s favor.

While Founders Fund is better known for technology-focused investments – it was famously an early investor in Facebook – the San Francisco-based firm has branched into health as well, with several other startups in health technology and life sciences listed in its portfolio. Tisch said raising venture capital funding from venture capital funds more concentrated in technology has become easier over the last few years, particularly as there has been a merging of engineering and biology.

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