Italy has world renowned companies in several major industries, from automotive with Fiat, energy with Eni, luxury fashion with Luxottica (the owners of Ray-Ban and Oakley among other brands) through to Intesa Sanpaolo for finance and investment and this is before we mention football or food! But now, one pioneering company, Explora Biotech with its DOULIX platform, is flying the flag for synthetic biology in the republic and making life easier and more efficient for those looking to harness the power of this emerging technology.
Our editor Luke Upton recently sat down with Davide De Lucrezia ( @delucrezia_d ) the CEO and one of three co-founders of Explora Biotech, a company he co-founded in 2006 and also an Adjunct Professor in Bio-nanomaterials at the department of Molecular Sciences and Nanosystems at University Ca’ Foscari of Venice. Until 2011 he served as operative coordinator of the LivingTech Lab at the European Centre for Living Technology also in Venice, Italy. He graduated in 2004 in Biology at the University of Rome “Roma Tre” and pursued a PhD degree in biochemistry in 2008.
Luke Upton (LU): Thanks for the time today, for our readers who are unfamiliar, could you give us a little introduction into DOULIX, your toolkit for synthetic biology?
Davide De Lucrezia (DDL): Today’s synthetic biology workflow is highly fragmented, most researchers I talked to spend most of their time searching and copying sequences, designing primers and DNA synthesis strings, browsing the web for data. Doulix enables synthetic biologists to spend time on what they are best at: designing DNA! Quite simply DOULIX is a cloud-based platform designed for synthetic biologists to streamline the entire synbio workflow, from design to synthesis. When I was a PhD student I got frustrated by spending lots of time fixing the tools that were meant to help me. So, I thought there has to be a better way! And from that came Explora Biotech first and then DOULIX in 2015. When talking about Doulix, I like to say that you can’t buy time, but you can work smarter.
We can see that synthetic biology has been through a radical paradigm shift over the last decade, evolving from a qualitative or descriptive science into a quantitative and engineering one. DOULIX helps support this conversion by integrating a curated DNA database with an advanced sequence editor that allows its users to directly compute synthesis fragments for most common cloning methods. By utilizing DOULIX, you can directly place an order for the synthesis of your construct while editing its sequence. That’s Something I wish I could do while I was studying for my PhD!
LU: It’s interesting to hear you had a focus on launching a commercial company even whilst studying. This is something I hear of a lot for people in the USA, but less so in Europe. Do you see a difference in the start-up culture between the continents?
DDL: I think that people in Europe are a little more risk averse, and don’t necessarily have the tools to launch a business. In the USA, they take more risks. But now things are changing, and there are more platforms to support that step from academia to business also in Europe.
LU: What’s been the biggest challenge in growing the company?
DDL: I guess the main challenge for us was our location. Italy is not known for synthetic biology. Italy’s strongest asset is pharma and chemicals. So, finding funding and R&D partners was tough, as we lacked the ecosystem that say a London or Munich has. But we wanted to stay here in Italy but still work beyond our borders. For us a big moment, a game changer even, was the TOPCAPI Horizon 2020 project which allowed us to be based in Italy, but collaborating with the best and brightest research groups across Europe.
LU: So, as we move towards the end of 2019, what is the focus for the coming year?
DDL: It’s going to be a big year! We started DOULIX ( @Doulix_SynthBio ) in 2015, and undertook an extensive research stage – 12 academic groups and five companies – all working through our offering and stress testing it. This is very important to us. This isn’t just a bit of software designed by some computer scientists. It’s an intuitive platform made by synthetic biologists for synthetic biologists. We have a number of high-profile partnerships we are working on, most notably the one with SGI-DNA that will allow us to provide full-length constructs at unprecedented turnaround time. It will be fantastic to see our work making life easier and more productive for synbio innovators all over the world.
LU: I love story behind the business, a clear problem to solve and a great way of doing it. So, what advice would you give to someone else looking to launch their own company or product within the synthetic biology space?
DDL: It’s all about the team. You can’t run a business alone and need organisation, human resources and finance to all come together to succeed. Being honest, when we started out, we underestimated the importance of this. Myself and my fellow two co-founders, we all come from a scientific background and we underrated the power of soft skills when we launched. But we certainly don’t now and have a great multidisciplinary team.
LU: And finally, as we ask all our interviewees, what’s your favourite sustainable/bio-based product?
DDL: I really love Colorifix – the British firm that is using synthetic biology to change how dyes for textiles are manufactured. Instead of using the traditional harsh chemistry, they find a colour that is created by an animal, plant or microbe. They use DNA sequencing to work out what encodes the instructions to make a pigment and translate this message into engineered microorganisms, which are then delivered directly to customers’ premise for on-site dye production. It’s a great technological innovation coupled to an innovative semi-distributed manufacturing model. The product is amazing, but the whole model is also truly sustainable – so inspirational.
LU: Great, thank you very for the time today and looking forward to covering the developments in 2020.
For more information visit https://getstarted.doulix.com/ to contact Davide directly email firstname.lastname@example.org
This interview was first published in Issue #16 of the Bio Market Insights Quarterly.
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