Gingko Enters Dyes and Drugs Partnerships

11.05.2023 - US biology company Ginkgo Bioworks has announced two separate partnerships, one on natural colors and dyes with Octarine Bio and the other on novel therapeutic molecules with drugmaker Boehringer Ingelheim.

The first deal sees Gingko and Danish company Octarine Bio in a multi-stage collaboration focused on compounds in the tryptophan pathway, aiming to engineer a strain for producing violacein and its derivatives. Violacein is a naturally occurring bis-indole pigment with potent bioactive properties, including anti-microbial, anti-oxidant and UV protection properties.

The partnership leverages Octarine’s proficiency in enzymatic derivatization, which can enable improved production levels and superior color properties, with Ginkgo’s expertise in strain engineering.

"We see tremendous potential to apply these natural pigments as bio-based dyes, one of the fastest growing categories in the global textile market, and look forward to leveraging the Ginkgo platform to accelerate its development," said Octarine’s co-founder & CEO Nethaji Gallage.

Ena Cratsenburg, chief business officer at Ginkgo Bioworks, added: "Natural colors and dyes constitute a significant and expanding market, especially given the heightened awareness from companies and the concerns of consumers about the harmful effects of conventional manufacturing processes.”

Most textiles are still produced with fossil-derived synthetic colors and dyes, which have been linked to harmful effects on both human health and the environment. Synthetic biology offers a viable alternative by enabling safer products made through microbial fermentation, the companies said.

Although the partners are initially focused on violacein, they could potentially expand their work to other tryptophan-derived compounds, each with their own unique applications.

A second partnership with Germany’s Boehringer Ingelheim will leverage Ginkgo’s natural product discovery capabilities to accelerate the discovery and development of novel therapeutic molecules to address diseases with high unmet patient need that are currently considered “undruggable.”

Ginkgo will receive upfront research fees, as well as various other payments, that combined could reach $406 million in total.

The companies will mine Ginkgo’s metagenomic sequence database to potentially enable the rapid identification of lead molecules as starting points for discovering novel treatments. Ginkgo regards its metagenomic database as “one of the broadest and deepest worldwide”, adding that its capabilities have been enhanced by incorporating machine learning and data science tools from California biotech Zymergen, which it bought last October for $300 million.  

Author: Elaine Burridge, Freelance Journalist