Virginia biotechnology investor Randal Kirk is reportedly investing in the burgeoning field of synthetic biology, which a recent Forbes profile about the billionaire described as “genetic engineering on steroids.” Kirk and his investment fund, Third Security, have evidently “poured $200 million into [Intrexon, a] closely held 180-person company in Blacksburg, Va., which has no drugs on the market.” Intrexon was founded in 1998 by molecular scientist Thomas Reed, whom Kirk refers to as “the Henry Ford of DNA. We are all living in his dream.”
“I’ve been a biotech investor for 27 years, and Intrexon is by far the best thing I’ve ever seen,” Kirk was quoted as saying. According to the article, synthetic biology, which focuses on reengineering living cells from the ground up rather than making modest genetic changes by adding or deleting single genes, aims to make protein drugs cheaper and more efficient and transform “living cells into tiny molecular factories to make everything from gasoline to construction materials.” Kirk is not alone in seeing synthetic biology’s potential; J. Craig Venter, who sequenced the first human genome, is also actively involved in the field. See Forbes, February 22, 2011.