Northern VCTs

Why we invested: Camena Bioscience

Earlier this year Mercia Ventures’ Lee Lindley and Marina Fuentes led a $10m investment into Camena Bioscience from Mercia Ventures. Camena have developed a ground-breaking, proprietary DNA synthesis platform which we think will revolutionise the synthetic DNA market, helping to catalyse the development and advancement of precision medicines for patients worldwide.

Read about why Mercia Ventures invested, how they are supporting Steve Harvey & Derek Stemple on their growth journey, whilst also outlining its vision for the future.

The Problem

After years of anticipation, we are finally entering the era of precision medicine. Recent breakthroughs in genomics, next-generation sequencing and the identification of clinically relevant biomarkers have deepened our understanding of the fundamental biology underpinning some of the world’s most devastating diseases. Simultaneously, modern therapeutic advancements such as AI-supported drug discovery (including biologics and small molecules), advanced medicines (such as cell and gene therapies) and the advent of RNA vaccines are reshaping the healthcare landscape.
The translation of fundamental research into precision medicines hinges on the completion of R&D activities by pharmaceutical companies and biotechs. Since precision medicine focuses on interventions at the DNA, RNA, and protein levels, researchers require ready access to the DNA, RNA, and proteins they are studying in their labs.

While DNA and genes can be synthetically created for research, the prevailing technology for DNA synthesis, based on phosphoramidite chemistry, was developed in the 1980s and has remained there ever since. This approach is not fit for purpose today, with synthesised DNA accuracy generally being poor, and manufacturing times often taking several weeks or months. Moreover, these challenges compound for long or complex DNA sequences, rendering complex sequences too expensive to be purchased in significant numbers. Alarmingly, it is thought that existing providers turn down 20-30% of gene orders upfront, deeming them “too complex to make.” Given this myriad of problems, we will never truly enjoy the benefits of precision medicine until every gene is able to be synthesised quickly, accurately and cost-effectively.

The Solution

Camena Bioscience presents a ground-breaking solution with its proprietary gSynth platform, revolutionising the DNA synthesis market by unlocking access to genes and accelerating discovery and development pipelines. Their approach utilises a novel enzymatic method of DNA synthesis that is efficient, highly accurate and enables the synthesis of long, complex genes.
For 300 base pair sequences, Camena’s technology boasts 90% accuracy, in stark contrast to phosphoramidite accuracy which hovers around 30%. Camena can synthesise long DNA chains (several thousand base pairs long), even with sequences containing high numbers of base pair repeats. Additionally, Camena can synthesise sequences rich in cytosine (C) and guanine (G), a notorious challenge in the sector. Their methodology also enables much faster synthesis and as such addresses the key bottlenecks of speed, accuracy, and complexity faced by medical researchers. Similar to how next-generation DNA sequencing technologies have transformed our ability to ‘read’ DNA, our investment thesis is that Camena’s gSynth technology will transform our ability to ‘write’ DNA.

Marina Fuentes and I first met Camena in early 2022, and ever since then have been impressed with the team. Based in Cambridge, the company was co-founded by CEO Steve Harvey PhD, a leader in genomics research who personally experienced the challenges that Camena addresses, and CSO Derek Stemple PhD, a world-renowned molecular biologist and former co-founder of TwistDX (acquired by Alere and now part of Abbott). Alongside the core management team, seasoned life science entrepreneurs and venture builders Nagesh Mahanthappa and Aditya Rajagopal have joined the Board as Non-Executive Directors.

By the completion of the $10m investment in April 2023, Camena’s technology had been independently validated through signed commercial agreements with leading biotech and pharmaceutical companies, securing a multi-million pound revenue stream and further affirming our investment thesis.

Looking Ahead

An exciting future lies ahead for Camena. Our funding will be instrumental in scaling operations, growing revenues, and advancing Camena’s pioneering DNA synthesis platform, gSynth, into a “green” technology that will significantly enhance the sustainability of the gene synthesis market. We believe that Camena has the potential to become one of the largest synthetic DNA providers globally, catalysing the development and advancement of precision medicines for patients worldwide, and we are excited to continue to support them on this transformative journey.