MANCHESTER — Now that the world has the Impossible Whopper, will the impossible liver be far behind?
Such possibilities are being broached this week as inventor Dean Kamen, founder of the Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute, hosts the fourth semi-annual summit since launching ARMI in July 2017.
The three-day conference started Tuesday with a members-only day for BioFab USA and ARMI. It included a dinner at Kamen’s Bedford home.
Two public days of speeches and workshops are scheduled through Thursday. A total of 150 have signed up for the event.
The keynote speaker on Wednesday was Jason Kelly, co-founder and chief-executive of Ginkgo Bioworks, a synthetic biology company that programs cells for customers in the chemical, pharmaceutical, food and energy industries.
“We program cells because they run on digital code in the form of DNA,” Kelly told a crowd of scientists, entrepreneurs and regulators.
Much of ARMI’s work has focused on the use of stem cells to generate replacements for human tissue, bones and organs. For example, one of ARMI’s biggest accomplishments to date has been the Tissue Foundry; its first production was bone-ligament tissue grown together from bone-marrow stem cells.
But Kamen, who prides himself on introducing new technologies to a field, had Kelly speak about a different kind of cells — synthetic cells.
Ginkgo Bioworks has partnered with Bayer to develop self-fertilizing crops, with Roche to develop antibiotics, and with Motif to produce animal-free protein ingredients. Kelly said synthetic cell production played a role in the Impossible Whopper, the plant-based patty that Burger King claims tastes like beef.
(According to the website of Impossible Food, the company that makes the patty, the company extracts DNA from soy plants and inserts it into genetically engineered yeast, which ferments to produce heme, the molecule that gives meat its taste.)
Ginkgo has made CNBC’s Disruptor 50 List in the last three years and recently raised more than $430 million in venture capital. In doing so, Ginkgo has achieved what Kamen wants for ARMI — to move from theoretical design and laboratory work to mass production.
“They’ve learned how to scale it,” Kamen said in his introduction. Kamen said he expects ARMI-linked production to start “relatively quickly.”
“(Finding) talent is not the problem. Capital is the problem,” Kelly said about tech startups. Many venture capitalists aren’t experts in the science-heavy world of what he calls tough tech. So they are wary about investing in something they can’t grasp.
He advised startups to seek government grants — Ginkgo would not have succeeded without them — hustle the non-specialist investor and find third-party validation from agencies such as the FDA or the Standards Coordinating Body, a voluntary organization that sets standards for the regenerative medicine industry.
Kelly said the time is now for tough tech. He noted the work of SpaceX and Tesla, and he said Silicon Valley is embracing biotech.
“People have run out of things to invent that end up as a square on your phone,” he said.