Desktop Genetics Ltd, a UK bioinformatics company aiming to revolutionize the way genetic researchers work, has recently announced that it has secured an investment of £1.37M GBP from a syndicate of VCs and angel investors. This funding will primarily support the commercialization of the recently introduced DESKGEN platform, a software system that gives scientists the power to organize, optimize, and automate their research.
To find out more about this round of funding and the DESKGEN platform, we spoke to Victor Dillard, Chief Operating Officer & Founder, Desktop Genetics Ltd.
JR: Could you provide us with an overview of your company, Desktop Genetics?
VD: What brought us together was an idea to enable “literal Desktop Genetics” – allowing biologists to perform cutting-edge life science experiments, from start to finish, entirely from their computer.
As everyone in the field knows, maintaining high productivity inside and outside of the lab can be challenging. Whether you’re planning an experiment on paper, using existing software tools, or just getting on with pipetting, there are an awful lot of repetitive tasks that take up scientists’ time. We’re a team of computer scientists and molecular biologists that develop technologies at the intersection of biotech, software and lab automation, helping our users to be more productive than ever before.
To date, our focus has been on building the best CRISPR genome-editing platform. Not only do we make this next-gen technique easy by automating obvious and laborious tasks, but we also assist experimental decision-making by pulling in best practices from our commercial partners and published literature. Really, we aimed to build a system that acts as a panel of experts guiding you along every step of the gene editing process. Finally, we wrap this powerhouse software in an intuitive user interface that works for the scientist, not against them (like other CRISPR software tools out there). To get it right, a major focus at the company has been to embed ourselves in our partners’ labs, understand their problems and solve them in delightful ways.
This approach helped us see that enhancing productivity isn’t only about good gRNA design software. “Literal Desktop Genetics” is also about what happens next , IE all of the processes related to obtaining data about your genome engineering experiment – which is why we are partnering with several leading suppliers, third party vendors and CROs to offer research tools and custom CRISPR libraries for on-demand cell line engineering.
We’ve now piloted a complete workflow where our customers can plan their experiment, purchase reagents, outsource experiments to commercial providers, and obtain results without them having their own specialist laboratories. We’re really fortunate to already be working with some great companies like Editas Medicine, Horizon Discovery and enEvolv, and we are constantly evolving our platform to meet the needs of the community.
As for the other partners? We will have some more exciting announcements very soon.
JR: You have recently received funding to commercialize the DESKGEN genome editing software platform, what will this new capital enable?
VD: This latest round of investment (Desktop Genetics recently announced that it has raised £1.37M GBP) will enable us to continue technology development on the platform and ensure that scientists from every field can expertly design and perform CRISPR genome editing experiments in their species or cell line of choice. We’re also investing in the expansion of our existing sales and marketing infrastructure, and scaling up our custom library design service for scientists engaged in functional genomics, target identification and validation. In general it’s about taking the company and the DESKGEN genome editing software platform to the next level.
We are of course looking for great people to help us do this, and invite talented people to get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org
JR: How does this system build on your other proprietary technologies, AutoClone and gUIDEbook?
VD: The DESKGEN platform combines all of our proprietary technologies and algorithms from our other software tools. The AutoClone technology provides a lot of power under the hood, allowing users to benefit from optimised and automated cloning solutions for the assembly of new CRISPR vectors and other DNA molecules. It also serves as a powerful search engine enabling scientists to collaborate, share and re-use DNA and strains from existing libraries.
gUIDEbook is simply the name of a joint software offering that is provided via the Horizon Discovery website. It allows users to quickly obtain gRNA sequences that target human and mouse genes, emulating the design techniques that Horizon uses internally for its cell line engineering projects.
JR: What are some of the key challenges researchers face when undertaking CRISPR gene editing? How does DESKGEN help them overcome this?
VD: There are quite a few!
First, the rate at which the CRISPR field is evolving means that a researcher will be required to read, on average, 3.5 papers a day just to keep up with on-going developments. For most, who simply want to use CRISPR as a molecular biology technique, simply is not feasible. We’re solving this problem for our customers by constantly updating the CRISPR design rules and algorithms to ensure they are always state of the art. In essence, DESKGEN does the literature review for you by curating, filtering and translating all of these best practices behind-the-scenes, showing you only what’s relevant to your experiment.
The second challenge we commonly see is the fragmentation of important features across many different academic CRISPR tools, databases and genome browsers. For the most part the academic CRISPR tools are poorly maintained, and there is little transparency on the algorithms and underlying datasets they employ. Researchers also have to “jump around” from tool to tool, resulting in a pretty unpleasant design process, a lot of lost hours, and complications for reproducibility.
DESKGEN combines the most important features from each CRISPR tool and genome database, and serves as a one-stop-shop for researchers’ requirements.
However, if the platform falls short of a researcher’s particular needs, they can just give us a call and our in-house genome editing experts will put together something unique for them – whether its plain old advice on what to do, or a custom-made CRISPR library.
One final thing I’d add is that our platform is FREE for academics!
Victor Dillard was speaking to Jack Rudd, Editor for Technology Networks.