Interview with Emily Leproust of Twist Bioscience

As an early pioneer in the high throughput synthesis and sequencing of DNA, Dr. Leproust is disrupting the process of gene synthesis to enable the exponential growth of synthetic biology applications in multiple fields including medicine, DNA data storage, agricultural biology and industrial chemicals. She has been named one of Foreign Policy’s 100 Leading Global Thinkers for fast-tracking the building blocks of life, and Fast Company named her one of the Most Creative People in Business for synthesizing DNA faster than ever. Dr. Leproust has published over 30 peer-reviewed papers – many on the applications of synthetic DNA – and is the author of numerous patents. Read her full bio.

Interview with Emily Leproust of Twist Bioscience

Q: NGS is enhancing patient care through improved diagnostic sensitivity and more precise therapeutic targeting. Prominent examples include cystic fibrosis and cancer. What other clinical areas NGS will most likely to change the standard-of-care in the near future?

A: Preventative medicine – using genetic data to identify traits that have the potential to cause harm in the future, which may be able to be mitigated through diet, exercise, preventative regimens

Patient stratification in clinical trials – selecting the right patients to be treated with the most effective therapeutics, faster

Rare diseases – identifying genetic differences has the potential to save lives – as exemplified by recent research conducted by Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia using Twist Bioscience Exome Kit is able to identify genetic defects that are sometimes treatable with over the counter therapies.

Identification of outbreaks – such as Ebola, Zika, and Monkeypox. Using our PanViral panel together with Illumina technology, researchers from USAMRIID were able to identify Monkeypox as the viral outbreak in Nigeria and track its spread (published in The Lancet).

Q: In order to maximize the potential of NGS use in the clinic, what new genomics strategies need to be adapted?

A: Scalable and cost effective solutions need to be implemented to benefit individual and population level genomics.

Q: What areas of sequencing technologies need to be improved before new applications can be introduced to clinical use?

A: Sequencing technologies are really quite good.

Prior to the introduction of the Twist NGS Target Enrichment Kit, there was a need for better quality, faster target enrichment capabilities, which focuses on generating high-quality data at scale with costs that allow effective implementation

We are seeing more and more applications introduced into clinical use regularly, from companion diagnostics to transplantation screening.

Q: What are the current challenges in the setup of large-scale NGS analysis workflows?

A: Currently, sequencing and analysis costs can be quite high for rare genetic differences, so setting up screening on a very large scale can be costly and remain very time consuming

By focusing on the exome only using the Twist Bioscience Kits, it is possible to focus the sequencing costs on the areas of interest, thereby reducing the overall costs of projects.

Q: What are the obstacles to the widespread adoption of NGS in routine diagnostic testing?

A: Please see above.

Q: What are the obstacles to the widespread adoption of NGS in routine diagnostic testing?

A: We believe the NGS market is growing substantially and will play a pivotal role in the future of healthcare – from prevention to diagnosis to treatment and follow up.

We are pleased to share that our NGS target enrichment and library preparation tools bring to the market scalability and performance. By leveraging our DNA synthesis technology, this platform allows for flexibility while reducing the overall cost of NGS.

Q: What need is Twist Bioscience addressing?

A: Founded in April 2013 to make higher-quality DNA faster and more cost effectively

We have a disruptive process for making DNA that leverages silicon to miniaturize the chemical reaction

This synthetic DNA is the basis of all of our products: genes, gene fragments, oligonucleotide pools, DNA libraries, and our target enrichment kits for next-generation sequencing

Market was ripe for disruption and we are the first company to bring a new technology

In the same space that other companies make one gene, we can make almost 10,000 in parallel by miniaturizing the reaction

The need for synthetic DNA is growing – just as the number of applications for DNA sequencing (or DNA “reading”) increased exponentially after the availability of affordable sequencing, the same is happening for “writing” DNA – also known as synthesizing DNA.

Q: What are the products and/or services Twist Bioscience offers/develops to address this need? What makes Twist Bisocience unique?

A: Synthetic DNA is used by many different industries – from healthcare to industrial chemicals to agriculture.

We offer genes and gene fragments for healthcare, industrial chemicals, agricultural biotech; oligonucleotide pools for things like CRISPR research; DNA libraries for target identification and antibody development for pharma and biotech companies; NGS target enrichment kits that are used in diagnostic workflows to improve sequencing efficiency and effectiveness

Synthetic DNA can even be used to store digital data.

Q: What is your role at Twist Bioscience and what excites you about your work?

A: CEO and co-founder

I am excited about the fact that we are truly enabling our customers to improve healthcare and the sustainability of the planet.

Q: When thinking about Twist Bioscience and the domain Twist Bioscience is working in, what are some of the recent breakthroughs that are propelling the field forward and how will they impact healthcare?

A: Our genes and gene fragments are being used for research in multiple industries; specifically in healthcare, they are used for developing new therapeutics across a wide range of diseases, and are also used to identify mechanisms of action for specific genes or portions of genes

Our oligo pools are used for CRISPR research and development

Our NGS target enrichment tools: Article published in The Lancet demonstrating our Pan Viral panel could be used to efficiently identify an outbreak of Monkeypox

Our DNA libraries are allowing discovery of important antibody targets that may be used for a wide range of therapeutics

Another example would be the ability to make flavors, fragrances, chemicals without the need to begin with petrochemicals; this saves the natural species (rose plants for rose oil; vanilla plants for vanillin, etc).

Q: What are the short-term challenges that Twist Bioscience and its peers are facing?

A: We’ve been extremely successful and we are growing rapidly.

Short term challenges are focused around hiring, as we face a competitive hiring environment.

We have very good benefits packages for our employees.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to share with the PMWC audience?

A: We believe it is an exceptionally important time in the field of synthetic biology

We believe this is the century of biology and that the understanding of biology will fuel amazing developments to improve healthcare and the sustainability of the planet

We intend to continue to leverage the versatility of our platform to build a leadership position in other synthetic DNA-based product markets where we have a competitive advantage

We will expand our position as the provider of choice for high-quality, affordable synthetic genes and DNA to customers across multiple industries

We intend to become the leading supplier of NGS sample preparation products

We will conduct antibody therapeutic discovery and optimization for our current customers and future partners