Think on a New Scale and Reimagine
Dr. Patrick Finn, Ph.D. (known by friends and colleagues as Paddy), Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Twist Bioscience, is a key driver of Twist’s present and future commercial success. Paddy has a strong track record of high-growth sales in bioreagent, B2B, and custom manufacturing organizations. His technical background, paired with his ability to identify customer’s unmet needs, make him the ideal fit to lead Twist Bioscience’s commercial organization. If you speak with Paddy, you can’t help but be excited by the potential of Twist Bioscience, and the ways we are contributing to the advancement of science. He was recently interviewed by the publication Front Line Genomics, and this excitement shines through.
Read on for a full recap of Paddy’s interview with Front Line Genomics.
HOW ONE COMPANY IS MAKING MORE POSSIBLE, THROUGH DISRUPTIVE TECHNOLOGY AND A COMMITMENT TO THINKING LIKE SCIENTISTS.
What are some of the hottest topics out there right now? Gene editing is right up there; looking a little further into the future, using DNA as data storage is extraordinarily exciting. Those are just two of the applications that Twist Bioscience are not only making possible, but pioneering. As exciting as their technology is, they have also gained fans for their exceptional customer service. For an inside look at this disruptive start-up, we posed a few questions to Patrick Finn, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Twist Bioscience.
Front Line Genomics: For those who may not be aware, you’re helping Twist Bioscience commercialize a very disruptive nucleic acid synthesis platform. What makes it so disruptive?
Patrick Finn: Twist Bioscience manufactures DNA in a very different manner than ever before. We have developed a proprietary semiconductor-based synthetic DNA manufacturing process featuring a high-throughput silicon platform capable of producing synthetic biology tools, including oligonucleotide pools and variant libraries. By synthesizing DNA on silicon instead of on traditional 96- well plastic plates, our platform overcomes the current inefficiencies of synthetic DNA production, and enables cost-effective, rapid, high-quality, and high throughput synthetic gene production, which in turn, expedites the design, build, test cycle to enable personalized medicines, pharmaceuticals, sustainable chemical production, improved agriculture production, diagnostics, biodetection, and even digital data storage on DNA. It’s really using the silicon as the platform which allows us to miniaturize the proven chemistry to levels that enable us to manufacture the right amount of DNA without incurring extra waste or requiring large amounts of space.
FLG: How do you go from having a great technology, to having a great business?
PF: In order to go from a great technology to a great business, I believe the people behind the technology become critically important. At Twist Bioscience, we bring together the best people in each aspect of our business – from the leadership down to the entry level workers, from our supporting investors to our customer partnerships. We need employees and partners in every function who are the best at what they do to accomplish their jobs effectively and efficiently. Importantly, we have created a culture where we address challenges head on. When a company is implementing a novel technology, never before tried, challenges arise, and we believe in addressing them head on. We have brought together people from more than 45 different countries of origin, which means they have had different cultural experiences and come with different biases. In certain situations, this creates additional conflict, but importantly, we gather diverse ideas for problem solving and come together with the best solution to move the business forward.
FLG: Your platform isn’t just helping researchers. It’s removing some long standing barriers to innovation, and giving them the opportunity to think in new ways and ask bigger questions. Where are you seeing researchers best take advantage of what you have to offer?
PF: There are two areas where I believe we are seeing innovation in a unique and noteworthy way. The first is in the field of drug discovery, where researchers have been working with the same targets for some time. Even when there are new targets, it is difficult to alter processes so that they are considered druggable. Moving forward, I believe that the ability to generate synthetic DNA at a reasonable cost in a timely manner will accelerate research and discovery. We are seeing validation of this in our early commercial activities with pharma’s interest in our ability to make large numbers of genes and top quality DNA libraries. In addition, the research community has rapidly adopted our oligonucleotide pools for genome editing experiments which has given us great insight into the capabilities of our platform and the value that it brings to our customers. The second area is storing digital data on DNA. We are currently working with Microsoft and the University of Washington to extend the knowledge and experience in this field. While this is not yet commercially available, our initial efforts have been extremely promising in that we have been able to encode and decode the data with 100% accuracy. We will continue to work to reduce the cost of DNA synthesis to make this a possibility in the future, as our current methods of digital storage will not sustain our requirements for much longer. With the learning from Moore’s law and the rapid reduction in cost of sequencing, when there is a commercial demand, the technology develops to meet that demand.
FLG: How did the deal with Microsoft and University of Washington happen?
PF: We had been talking with Microsoft and the University of Washington for some time. All three parties are very interested in looking at novel ways to approach the escalation of digital data storage. With the amount of data generated each day expanding exponentially and our best methods of storage needing replacement every 10 years or so, there is a tremendous opportunity, and more importantly a very large need, for disruptive technology to enter the marketplace. Together, we are exploring the possibility, and we are all very excited about the future. If you think about it, all the data in the world today could be stored in the trunk of one car with minimal energy and resource requirements – that’s pretty amazing, and worthwhile to explore!
FLG: NGS made a lot of things possible. The ability to sequence at scale, and speed, has helped increase our basic understanding of the genome at a phenomenal rate. With the ability to synthesize, and edit DNA, we find ourselves at an incredibly exciting stage of scientific research. In some ways it’s as if we’re going from only being able to read a document, to being able to read and write. What excites you most about how biotechnology is changing the field of medical research?
PF: We are learning more about human biology than ever before and believe that this is the era of biology. With the ability to write DNA faster and cheaper than ever before, the discovery of CRISPR/Cas9 and other novel gene editing systems, the knowledge of the underlying mechanisms for many different biological systems, and the ability to mine data across populations, as well as other important discoveries, we now have the tools necessary to identify functionality and causality. We still have much to learn, however, even in the most basic areas. For example, we can synthesize DNA, but we cannot yet make more complex structures like nucleosomes or chromosomes. By learning more about the biological underpinnings through the use of synthetic DNA, gene editing, and other tools, we have the ability to truly make a difference in the field of medical research by discovering the cause of disease and the subsequent treatment or cure; by discovering new methods to test for disease through innovative diagnostics; by leveraging artificial intelligence and big data to mine the sequencing information available to predict the best treatments and even identify new pathways for therapeutic discovery. It’s a very exciting time indeed.
FLG: You must be proud and excited to be part of this. It also demonstrates the wide range of applications that you could potentially cater for. Are there any other future-looking applications you’d love to see people explore with you?
PF: I am very proud and excited to be a part of this growing company and technology platform. I believe the largest opportunities to explore new areas include antibody research, leveraging our recently announced partnership with Distributed Bio to design targeted antibodies for therapeutic use as well as a G-protein coupled receptor library specific for antibody development. I also think there is a lot of potential to leverage our oligo pools and variant libraries for development of new therapies combating complex diseases. In addition, we are making great progress in serving the industrial chemicals and agricultural biotech markets where our technology supports the drive towards sustainable products that impact people’s lives every day. We cannot wait to increase our capacity and expand our services to more companies interested in accelerating their research.
FLG: You got your start with a Ph.D. in Chemistry from University of Southampton. You’ve now found yourself very much on the commercial side of science. How did you migrate from the lab to the office, and do you think you’ll ever go back the other way?
PF: The major influence in leaning my career towards commercial roles was my Ph.D. supervisor, Professor Tom Brown during my time at both Edinburgh and Southampton Universities. To me, he was a role model, balancing great ideas in the field of DNA synthesis that led to his incredible academic record but also underpinned his outstanding success in business. He is a serial entrepreneur and his energy and enthusiasm for science and business resonated with me. I have had a great run working on fantastic genomics focused projects throughout my career and although I think I still have good lab hands, I suspect any future lab mates may have a very strong say in keeping me away from their experiments.
FLG: One of the things we consistently hear about Twist Bioscience is how you all come across as scientists working toward the same goal, rather than as just a service provider. Is that a deliberate ethos that runs through the company, or a happy accident resulting from a good recruiting process?
PF: A focus on science is a deliberate and intentional ethos running through the company and it starts from the top executives down through the ranks in almost every function. In functions that do not require scientific expertise, like FP&A, for example, even these employees take a scientific approach to their work. We are extremely focused on making customer service our top priority – going the extra mile time and again to ensure that we are delivering on our word, and taking responsibility with transparency when we cannot. Because we work with scientists, it’s important that we understand their challenges, and the definition of success for each individual customer. With this as our top priority, we have found that scientists generally understand scientists, and have hired top flight marketing and sales professionals capable of interfacing at an appropriate level with our customers.
FLG: Where would you like to see Twist Bioscience in 5 years’ time?
PF: In five years, Twist Bioscience will be the market leader in DNA synthesis for all industries, generating volumes at unprecedented levels, but also integrating vertically into new applications. This includes pharmaceutical drug discovery, DNA digital data storage, and maybe others as well. Because our technology platform is truly enabling researchers to accelerate their science, I also believe that we may see many new applications for synthetic DNA in five years time – those that we haven’t imagined yet today.
FLG: Anything else?
PF: It’s a very exciting time to be at Twist Bioscience – we are scaling up our platform looking toward a commercial launch, and we are working with leaders in multiple industries to pioneer new uses for DNA. All of us at Twist Bioscience are focused on a common objective – to improve health and sustainability through superior synthetic DNA. We look forward to providing tangible examples as we move forward.
Interview was reproduced with permission from Front Line Genomics.