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Synthetic DNA Company Gains $10M in Venture Round

Steve Harvey and Derek Stemple in the lab

Camena Bioscience founders Steve Harvey, left, and Derek Stemple (Mercia Ventures)

3 July 2023. A company using a process it says can produce synthetic genes with greater accuracy for research and clinical applications is raising $10 million in its first venture round. The work of Camena Bioscience in Cambridge, U.K. is based on research by its founders at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, a genetics research center in Hinxton, U.K. near Cambridge.

Camena Bioscience is a seven year-old business that creates synthetic DNA with an environmentally friendly technology it says approaches the feasibility and reliability of reading DNA. The company says current commercial DNA synthesis processes, particularly phosphoramidite chemistry, are slow, error-prone, use hazardous chemicals, and have difficulty producing human-length and complex genetic sequences. For example, Camena Bio cites data showing synthetic DNA with 200 nucleotides — the basic molecular unit of DNA — produced with phosphoramidite methods has only 40 percent of the correct full-length sequence. Human DNA, notes the company, has slightly more than 1,000 nucleotides.

“Foundation of the synthetic biology value chain”

Camena Bio says its process uses computational biology and machine learning algorithms with enzyme chemistry to design and assemble synthetic genes. A paper in the journal Nature, published in 2019, says DNA synthesized with enzymes is technically possible, but requires tight controls that stop the chemical activity after each step. Camena Bio published findings from its own benchmark tests showing its technology produces synthesized DNA fragments of 300 nucleotides with better than 85 percent accuracy, while the same DNA fragments made with phosphoramidite chemistry were 23 percent accurate. In a later test, the company used its process to produce a synthetic pUC19 plasmid, a circular DNA molecule found in E. coli bacteria, then generated bacterial colonies in the lab with the synthetic DNA.

Two researchers in genetics and molecular biology at Wellcome Sanger Institute, Steve Harvey and Derek Stemple, founded Camena Bioscience in 2016 to advance their work in DNA synthesis. Harvey is now the company’s CEO while Stemple serves as chief scientist. “The ability to read, write and manipulate DNA is the foundation of the synthetic biology value chain,” says Harvey in a company statement, “yet developments in DNA synthesis have not kept pace with DNA sequencing and editing capabilities.” Harvey adds, “The invention of next-generation DNA sequencing technologies transformed our ability to ‘read’ DNA. Our goal is to enable our customers to ‘write’ DNA with the same confidence and ease.”

Camena Bio is raising £7.8 million ($10 million) in its first venture finance round, led by Mercia Ventures that funds start-ups in the U.K., mainly in seed- and first-round venture stages. Camena Bio says it already generated commercial revenues from supplying synthetic DNA to biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies.

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