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Synthetic DNA Company Raising $70 Million in IPO

NASDAQ share price display

(Julien Gong Min, Flickr)

31 October 2018. A 5 year-old enterprise developing synthetic DNA for medical and agricultural chemicals, as well as data storage, is raising $70 million in its initial public stock offering. Twist Bioscience in San Francisco issued 5 million shares of common stock at $14.00 a share on the Nasdaq exchange, where the company trades under the symbol TWST.

Twist Bioscience develops synthetic genetic materials on a silicon platform, patterned after semiconductors, instead of traditional plastic plates and receptacles. This process, says the company, overcomes conventional limitations and inefficiencies to design and construct genes, oligonucleotide collections for Crispr genome-editing RNA, and libraries of genetic variations. Twist says its process based on semiconductors makes it possible to reduce the chemical reaction volumes required, but at the same time increase production throughput by a factor of 1,000. As a result, says the company, it can produce 9,600 genes on a single chip, while traditional plastic lab plates produce a single gene in the same space.

Twist’s customers include companies developing pharmaceuticals, sustainable chemicals, agricultural products, and medical diagnostics. An emerging application for synthetic DNA is data storage, to meet a growing need to store digital data, while options for this task are rapidly depleting. In December 2017, Twist Bioscience cited a study by EMC Corporation indicating by the year 2020 we’ll be able to store only 15 percent of our digital data, down from about one-third in 2013.

The company designs its digital DNA storage product for archival purposes, rather than for immediate or short-term retrieval. DNA takes advantage of a chemistry made up of 4 basic nucleotides, referred to as A, C, G and T, instead of binary electronic states represented as 1 and 0. In addition, the cost of genomics processing is falling rapidly, with sequencing of a whole human genome, made up of 3 billion base pairs, now costing less than $1,000. DNA data storage, says the company, is also compact, requires low energy, allows for encryption, and is as permanent a storage medium as nature itself.

In December 2017, Twist announced a deal to provide Microsoft Corp. with 10 million long oligonucleotides to encode digital data on DNA. Twist’s latest financing in April raised $50 million for its work in data storage and drug discovery, according to Emily Leproust, the company’s CEO. And as reported by Science & Enterprise in July, a semiconductor industry group and National Science Foundation are supporting a series of projects investigating interactions between biology and circuits for data transfer and storage.

Investors seemed to balk at Twist’s asking share price of $14.00, with the stock falling today to $12.50 at mid-day, but recovering to $14.00 a share by the 4:00 pm ET closing bell. By that time, the entire Nasdaq composite index rose by 2 percent since the beginning of the day.

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