In the final feature on Molecular Assemblies, Big4Bio spoke with Stephen Bates, vice president of sales and marketing, about the year ahead for the company as it prepares to commercialize its synthetic DNAs.
Companies to Watch – Molecular Assemblies
by Marie Daghlian
Stephen Bates has come full circle in a long career in sales and marketing as he prepares to help launch Molecular Assemblies’ “Oligos as a Service”, commercializing the company’s enzymatic technology years in the making.
Bates started his career in the 1980s at Applied Biosystems where he helped introduce phosphoramidite chemistry, the first chemistry for making synthetic DNA, to potential customers, and where he met Bill Efcavitch, who later went on to co-found Molecular Assemblies.
In June, he rejoined Efcavitch at Molecular Assemblies with the job of promoting a new chemistry—enzymatic DNA synthesis—to meet a rapidly evolving market demand for long read synthetic DNA, or oligonucleotides.
“Synthetic DNA used to be made mostly as PCR primers, and they are short—20 to 25 bases in length—and also for doing Sanger sequencing,” says Bates. “What’s changed in the last five to ten years is there’s a lot of new applications that people are interested in that require much longer pieces of DNA.”
Bates cited several examples that require long single strand pieces of DNA. This includes CRISPR-based gene editing to knock out genes or introduce edits, where with the latter you need to use a synthetic piece of single strand DNA of at least 150 bases, preferably 200 bases.
“There is this pent-up demand to have long pieces of DNA, which the current chemistry, unfortunately, was never built to do,” Bates says. “Also, these edits, customers want to do them at multiple places in the genome and they might need pools of thousands of these single stranded oligos for one experiment.”
It also includes a spectrum of life sciences applications where you need a synthetic gene, such as to code for enzymes or antibodies. The genes are very long, and companies must buy pieces of DNA and stitch them together to make them.
“The longer the synthetic DNA that you can get, the easier it is, the less error you get in being able to make these synthetic genes,” notes Bates.
Long pieces of DNA are also needed for targeted enrichment, where a genome needs to be sequenced but its preferential to sequence just parts of it instead of the whole genome.
Molecular Assemblies’ fully enzymatic process for making synthetic DNA can make oligos of at least 150 bases, and potential customers have taken note. Customers have told Bates that the current phosphoramidite chemistry for making synthetic DNA doesn’t meet today’s needs and they are excited to try the company’s synthetic DNA.
“The way I look at it, the competition from phosphoramidite chemistry has a very low cycle efficiency and inherently, for many applications, has difficulty making long pieces of DNA, particularly over 100 bases in length,” Bates says. “So, we are going to be spending a lot of time educating customers, letting them know that we can make long pieces of DNA that have a higher purity level that’s going to meet their application needs more than the current chemistry.”
As far as comparisons with other companies developing their own enzymatic chemistry, Bates says Molecular Assemblies’ process is fully enzymatic, based on a strong patent position, and will result in high efficacy oligonucleotides with high purity and sequence accuracy to meet the needs of today’s applications.
2022 will be a pivotal year for Molecular Assemblies. As it moves toward commercialization it is continually optimizing its chemistry and working to set up an automation platform that can deliver thousands of oligos to customers. Under a business model to sell oligonucleotides as a service, customers would place an order through e-commerce or have a direct relationship with the company.
Bates can’t wait to let customers try out the company’s synthetic oligos and he is confident that they will work.
“I get excited about customers being excited. That’s why I’ve been in this business for so many years,” Bates says. “This is certainly at the top of an opportunity where customers have come to me and, at such an early stage, they get excited about what we tell them. They get excited that its enzymatic. They get excited that it’s fully enzymatic, they get excited that it’s going to be long pieces of DNA that they can’t currently get, that the error rate is going to be lower, that the purity of the oligos is going to be so much better. To me, the more and more customer interactions where I see that in their eyes, that’s what I am looking forward to.”
This is part of the Big4Bio Company to Watch program for September 2021: Molecular Assemblies.
For more information on the series, click here.