Each month we profile an innovative, growing company from across The Golden Triangle of Cambridge, London and Oxford. This month we speak to James Field, Founder and CEO of LabGenius.
LabGenius combines AI, DNA synthesis and robotics to discover high-value biological molecules – what does this mean in reality?
Our objective is to harness the evolution of AI and create radically new biological products. We combine AI and automation with our core gene synthesis technology which allows us to rapidly search through trillions of genetic designs.
We have developed a Silicon Scientist, Eva, which learns through conducting its own scientific experiments. This gives us the ability to engineer life with unprecedented control and develop new materials.
In natural life, organisms develop very slowly which is inefficient. We work with multinational companies, and combine robotics, data analysis and machine learning to unpick design rules beyond the comprehension of the human brain, and engineer proteins with both enhanced and novel functionality.
Tell us more about Eva.
Eva is our autonomous AI-driven evolution engine which is used to discover high-value protein components. As humans, we survive by extracting models of how things function. Whereas Eva can deal with long, complex hypotheses with over 100 variables. Our technology gives us the ability to harness new materials and therapies that we do not or even cannot fully understand
You raised £3.6m seed funding last year. Tell us more about who was involved with this?
We needed funding to create an R&D facility in Central London, which we are now developing in a former biscuit factory in Bermondsey, for both office space and wet lab. We chose Bermondsey because there are a lot of start-ups around here. The investment round was led by Kindred Capital and Acequia Capital, and it was an oversubscribed round by various investment firms and individual investors.
It was a record year for investment into spinouts last year, why do you think this is?
Entrepreneurialism is being encouraged more and there are more options to fund your ideas straight out of university. We were originally incubated by SynbiCITE, which is an innovation and knowledge centre for synthetic biology based at Imperial College London. They are an industrial translation engine, which helped to accelerate our research and develop an investable product. There is a young, talented tech community here in London that are willing to take risks, and it also helps that you can run a full robotic lab fairly cheaply.
What is your main aim for the future?
It all boils down to developing a narrow AI specifically for protein engineering; designed to do one task better than humans. I guess the ultimate goal is to get rid of human intuition and replace time-consuming protein engineering techniques with AI-driven ones.
LabGenius seems to be doing something different – do you worry about competitors?
Our approach to cell engineering is becoming more mainstream, but we are each targeting different problems. We are one of several companies with the same goal: harnessing AI to augment the role of humans in the scientific process.
What is your advice for other start-ups?
My biggest piece of advice is to dream big! I see a lot of people constraining their vision because of a lack of capital, but capital will always chase after big ideas.
Why did you decide to set up in London?
I did my undergraduate and PhD at Imperial College London and it made sense to stay here afterwards. The high density of talent and tech, and the investment community, has kept us in London. I have a great, small team of synthetic biologists, data scientists and engineers here that I might not be able to get elsewhere.
Which other companies working in AI excite you?
From a generalised point of view, Deepmind are incredibly exciting. Zymergen are also very interesting; they produce ingredients for biofuels and drugs by engineering microbe genomes to make the compound more efficient. It’s an exciting time for Machine learning.
Find out more at https://www.labgeni.us/