US lends $ 1.1 billion to Ginkgo Bioworks for pandemic effort

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(Reuters) – The U.S. government has agreed to title loans private biotech firm Ginkgo Bioworks $ 1.1 billion for COVID-19 testing and the production of raw materials for therapies that could help deal with future pandemics .

FILE PHOTO: Jason Kelly, Co-Founder and CEO of Ginkgo Bioworks, speaks at the 22nd Annual Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California, U.S. May 1, 2019. REUTERS / Mike Blake

Boston-based Ginkgo, which is backed by private investment firm Bill Gates Cascade Investment and hedge fund Viking Global, has worked on projects, including helping to optimize part of the messenger RNA vaccine manufacturing process. from Moderna and performing coronavirus tests.

The company said it would use the loan from the US International Development Finance Corp, or DFC, for its ongoing COVID-19 programs and to conserve its infrastructure for any future pandemic.

“Because we haven’t faced a global pandemic for 100 years, we haven’t had a global biosafety infrastructure,” Jason Kelly, CEO of Ginkgo, said in an interview. “What excites me about this loan is that we can help build it.”

Many vaccines in development for COVID-19, including those from Moderna and Pfizer Inc., are new types of therapies that use nucleic acid messenger RNA to trick a patient’s own body to create antibodies that fight the virus.

Ginkgo’s manufacturing systems can produce the raw materials for these vaccines, including nucleic acids, which until now have never been produced on the scale needed to immunize billions of patients around the world.

Although Moderna and Pfizer have their own independent manufacturing plans in place, Ginkgo hopes its expertise in raw material manufacturing will help similar products in development.

Although mRNA vaccines remain an emerging field, recent data suggests that they could be a promising new type of therapy that has the potential to rapidly accelerate the development times of traditional vaccines.

DFC has provided loans to US companies under the leadership of President Donald Trump to support the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The agency’s $ 765 million loan offered to Eastman Kodak Co to support the camera company’s move to pharmaceutical manufacturing has been criticized after the Kodak CEO received stock options from the company. company before the announcement. An independent legal review subsequently cleared the executive of its wrongdoing.

Last week, DFC announced that it would loan $ 590 million to a company called ApiJect Systems Corp to help it make pre-filled injectors used in the production of vaccines, including candidate coronavirus vaccines.

To date, Ginkgo has received $ 900 million in funding outside of the DFC loan and has a valuation of $ 4.5 billion, according to the company.

Reporting by Rebecca Spalding; edited by Caroline Humer and Tom Brown

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