Bit.bio’s cell revolution looks to transform dementia treatments and grow organs to order | City & Business | Finance
The Cambridge University spinout combines coding and biology for its breakthrough Opti-ox technology that precisely reprograms stem cells, the type that are embryos for all the others, to make any cell required at scale.
“Everything that Bit.bio does is geared towards sustainability, improving the planet and the lives of people,” says chief executive and co-founder Dr Mark Kotter, both a stem cell biologist and a trained complex spine neurosurgeon.
Human cells, from blood and skin samples for example, are excellent for drug development and their mass production in pure batches overcomes the traditional bottlenecks of availability, reliability and cost.
“We are a new type of synthetic biology company where it is mammalian cells rather than bugs like E.coli that are engineered to create new solutions. We bridge the gap with a scalable consistent source,” explains Dr Kotter as Bit.bio prepares to increase output to two billion cells a day.
Thar source material opens the doors for research, development, licensing and therapies and, as well as accelerating drug discovery, it can reduce the £1.5 billion average amount spent on a drug’s innovation and the need for animal testing.
Stems cells have transcription factors (proteins) that identify their particular type and ‘silence’ any new activations. Bit.bio is overcoming that and creating new identities by “cracking the code of human cells from the inside,” says Dr Kotter.
The company’s first challenge has been to “figure out what the programs are that you want to engineer into a cell to give you the desired type,” he explains.
“We are developing new models with the London Institute for Mathematical Sciences to analyse the complex biological data.
“The second challenge is understanding exactly where in a cell’s DNA to engineer in the programs and also to engineer in more than one successfully.”
Silicon Valley and the life sciences sector showed their enthusiasm for the business’s prospects with a £30 million first funding raise last year.
Bit.bio has so far commercialised two products, the first brain and muscle cells mass produced from a single model. These are ready for experiments in a third of the time normally expected.
Fifteen more products will be coming through over the next three years with cancers on the schedule and the growth of organs forecast to arrive within the next decade.
Attracting leading lights in the stem cell sector such as Dr Roger Pedersen and clinical immune-oncologist Dr Ramy Ibrahim, expansion in the US is a next major step along with Bit.bio’s transition into a clinical company producing its own therapies.
The UK workforce has grown 50 per cent and will reach 150 by the end of the year.
But what will it take to keep Bit.bio headquartered in the UK? “We want to see a bolder, long term investment mindset away from quick wins,” declares Dr Kotter.
“We also want to see better access to talent and help to create physical spaces where we can grow a global HQ.”
The company is however “extremely excited” about Breakthrough, the £375 million UK scheme launching this summer that encourages UK venture capital to co-invest with government in high-growth, innovative firms to transform industries, develop new medicines and support the move to a net zero economy.
“We are on a moonshot mission to facilitate things that are affordable for everyone that were previously in the realm of science fiction,” adds Dr Kotter. “Ultimately our technology will help decode the operating system of life.”