Biotechnology Startup Asimov Launches with $4.5M from Andreessen Horowitz, to Unlock Advanced Biotechnologies

  • 19 December 2017
  • Jermaine Wright

Biotechnology startup Asimov has launched with $4.5 million in seed funding led by Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz with participation by Data Collective, Pillar, and AME Cloud Ventures.

A spin-off from research at MIT, Asimov is seeking to solve one of the industry’s biggest problems.

Biotech is considered one of the foremost sought-after sectors of technology. Modern biotechnology provides breakthrough products and technologies to combat debilitating and rare diseases, reduce our environmental footprint, feed the hungry, use less and cleaner energy, and have safer, cleaner and more efficient industrial manufacturing processes.

With more than 250 biotechnology healthcare products and vaccines available to patients, it is currently one of the most vital industries.

But one thing holding it back is that it’s significantly less amenable to traditional computing techniques than other areas.

Genetic circuits aren’t harnessed in biotechnology today because the engineering is a major technical challenge.

Solving that problem would unlock advanced biotechnologies that seem like science fiction: intelligent therapeutics that sense and respond to disease, molecular assembly lines for biomanufacturing, and living materials that heal and adapt to their environment

By creating a set of computer-aided biology design tools, Asimov is working on bridging the gap between biological and digital.

Asimov’s innovation is to allow people to create biological circuitry sing familiar tools and techniques. In fact, they’d use the same tools as if they were going to build a similar circuit in silicon and copper.

Asimov’s created a technique that translates the logic and structure of a traditional circuit into a DNA strand that can be introduced to an organism and replicated inside it, where it will perform the same type of calculation (XOR, for instance) inside the cell.

Built-in protections prevent errors at the molecular level, and the platform can tell with a 90 percent accuracy whether a circuit you’ve designed will work or not.

Asimov is striving to be the go-to resource for designing biological computation as biotechnology steadily becomes a fully-fledged engineering discipline.

The biotechnology startup believes that this technology can eventually improve the ability to cure diseases, help nourish a growing global population while empowering clean and sustainable manufacturing.

A16Z general partner Vijay Pande explains what he sees as adequate reason for investment:

“With Asimov’s approach, high-accuracy simulation, and circuit building-blocks, we can greatly speed the development of biological circuits — decreasing their cost, and greatly increasing their sophistication and complexity,” he said in a blog post.

“We’re still in the “transistor phase” of things, But there are many initial applications where this technology can make major advances, much like how early microprocessors, as simple as they were, became a dramatically enabling technology.”

Asimov was founded by four biological engineering pioneers – Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor Christopher Voigt, Boston University Professor Douglas Densmore, and MIT Biological Engineering PhDs Alec Nielsen and Raja Srinivas.

It programs living cells with genetic circuits and partners with customers to create previously impossible biotechnologies.

About Jermaine Wright