As the global pandemic changed our lives immeasurably over the last year, the healthcare sector has come to the forefront of our collective mindset. Healthcare companies and services have worked tirelessly to provide care to the millions of people struck by the virus as well as giving more remote and digital support.
The innovation, knowledge and expertise of a number of companies has supported the research and development of a Covid-19 vaccine. The UK has been one of the world leaders in rolling out the vaccine: to date more than 31 million people in the UK have received their first dose.
Touchlight is a company that has been supporting Covid-19 vaccine producers and helping them succeed with its revolutionary DNA technology. Touchlight was recently named as the UK’s first synthetic biology unicorn in Forbes following a recent £42 million investment. Touchlight plans to use the funds to triple its manufacturing space and increase its production of DNA and launch 11 new state-of-the-art DNA production suites, creating up to 60 new jobs.
Why is DNA so important?
There are widespread use cases for DNA across the healthcare sector:
DNA is the fundamental component of personalised genetic medication and is changing the lives of millions of people worldwide. This type of medication includes cell therapies for those who need blood transfusions and gene therapies for disorders such as cystic fibrosis, numerous cancers and muscular dystrophy (where targeted medication is used to correct or replace defective genes). The pandemic has further increased global demand for DNA, as well as cell and gene therapies.
Traditional vaccines are made by growing weakened forms of a virus in a lab and can take months, even years, to produce. The Covid-19 pandemic has expedited the production of a new type of vaccine called an RNA vaccine. This is made from a DNA template in a lab which can be reproduced as a sequence and distributed electronically worldwide in seconds. Touchlight uses proprietary enzymatic, rather than culturing, methods to produce the DNA required for RNA vaccine manufacturing. This process materially shortens DNA production times and increases the quality and yield.
At the present time, we are only scratching the surface of DNA technology. As we continue to understand it better, more DNA-based technologies will be developed and commercialised including vaccines, aptamers and other novel DNA applications. With research continuing, the application opportunities will increase with quicker adoption times to market.
The global cell and gene therapy market was valued at $2,599.7 million in 2020 and is expected to grow at an impressive double-digit rate of 33.82% per annum to reach a value of $25,002.1 million in 2027, according to a recent report.
Why Touchlight stands out
Touchlight grabbed our interest with their “Doggybone DNA”, dbDNA™– a patented, in vitro, dual enzyme technology that moves the process of creating DNA to chemical synthesis rather than ‘growing’ it. This enzyme amplification takes away reliance on bacterial fermentation and antibiotics, which in turn scales back on the capital expenditure and labour costs.
The dbDNA™ is safer and purer than its competitors in the market because it eliminates reliance on microbes to grow the DNA.
Production time for the dbDNA™ is one to two weeks, which is quicker than the market standard of at least one month and eliminates the risk of supply bottle necks due to the fast turnaround time.
Touchlight is disrupting the pricing and capacity power in the DNA market, while enabling groundbreaking therapies to be rolled out at a rapid pace. This was evident during the company’s involvement with Covid-19 vaccine providers, where they have been working to increase production yield at pace. The multi-million-dollar pipeline for the year ahead is also looking strong.
Given the strong management team led by CEO Jonny Ohlson who has been with the company since its inception in 2008, and the wider executive team, whose combined experience across the biology and genetics space spans hundreds of years, we were delighted to start working with Touchlight in 2020 and be part of their journey.
What the future holds
There are strong drivers accelerating the growth of the gene therapy market, including increasing awareness of gene therapy use, a surge in gene therapy trials, increasing regulatory scrutiny, and large investment from biopharma, governments and research institutes. Companies in this market are showing strong financial performance and we expect this success to continue.
Touchlight is an example of why healthcare is one of Downing Ventures’ key investment sectors: not only are they an innovative company enabling incredible healthcare developments, they are also creating significant value for shareholders, highlighted by their most recent fundraise.
We are proud to work with Jonny and his team and look forward to continuing to see them grow and develop as pioneers in the DNA market.
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