May 17, 2021 — Oregon Bio is excited to introduce you to Twist Bioscience, a California, Bay-Area company that announced late last year they are opening up their state-of-the-art manufacturing and processing facility just south of Portland. And bringing 400 jobs.
We met with Twist’s Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs, Angela Bitting, to ask a few questions and see how the plans are shaping up.
OR Bio: Tell us about Twist Bioscience’s products and services.
AB/Twist: At Twist, we make synthetic DNA and DNA products using our silicon-based platform. This DNA is used by our customers to modify yeast, algae and E. coli to produce chemicals by fermentation instead of fossil fuel; they modify plants or bacteria to deliver nitrogen at the root of plants instead of using fertilizer. The develop therapeutics, biologics and diagnostic tests. We even take DNA and use it to store digital data.
We have four areas of our business: Synthetic biology, next-generation sequencing (NGS), biopharma and DNA data storage.
For synthetic biology, we provide genes and gene fragments, variant libraries for protein engineering, oligos pools for gene editing and other applications, products for pharma and drug discovery including proteins called IgG. For NGS, we offer tools that go before the sequencer which are target enrichment tools and library preparation tools. These tools are used for a wide range of applications including liquid biopsy (using a blood sample to detect a range of cancers), rare disease detection, oncology, population genetics and infectious disease. We have a biopharma group that discovers and optimizes antibody therapeutics that are human derived and fully human. Additionally, we have a division which houses the data storage as well as uses our libraries and optimization tools to identify new antibodies for therapeutic diseases, both for partners and our internal pipeline. Our fourth business opportunity is in DNA data storage, where we take digital data and convert it from 0s and 1s to As, Cs, Gs and Ts.
ORBio: Please share some of Twist’s considerations that led to the choice of the Wilsonville site for Twist’s expansion.
AB/Twist: We were very interested in finding a manufacturing site that was close enough to the Bay Area, that our engineers could be on a plane and in commute in a single day, so that limited the range of possibilities. We discovered Wilsonville really allows us to plan for aggressive growth at a lower cost than we would pay in the Bay Area, but also retains the access to talent. We think it’s a talent rich environment. It allows us business continuity between the two sites (we do have earthquakes in the Bay Area!). We’ve found this Wilsonville location as our second site to make sure that it could meet those needs.
AB/Twist: We are looking at the Wilsonville site as a ‘Factory of the Future.’ And what we mean by that is that while we currently have synthesizers in South San Francisco that make DNA and we make a lot of DNA every single day, we can significantly expand the amount of DNA and products we produce for our customers. By bringing the Wilsonville site online, we’ll be able to do so in a much more rapid fashion. We’re driving for that speed advantage for our customers, which means we’ll able to deliver our products quicker, providing a way to reach customers who are currently making their own DNA because they can make it faster than they can order today.
ORBio: Can you tell us the specifics of the ‘Factory of the Future’? What plans are in place for the manufacturing and automation processes?
AB/Twist: At this point in time, we anticipate at the Wilsonville site, we’ll be manufacturing genes in the including clonal genes and gene fragments, as well as products for antibody construction. These will include manufactured IgG proteins and larger preparations of DNA that are both used in making antibody therapeutics.
ORBio: What plans do you have to find the talent and skilled workforce that you’re going to need in the Factory of the Future?
AB/Twist: We do plan to participate in the local and regional career fairs, some of which are online. We will participate in the career events hosted by Oregon Bio. We plan to do a targeted recruitment through the junior and community colleges in the area. We’ll also post jobs on LinkedIn, where we can target specific geographic areas. And, we’re really looking forward to working with the Oregon Bioscience Association.
ORBio: What about advice that you might have for other growing biotech companies that are looking to scale up and grow?
AB/Twist: It’s important to pick a site/location where you can recruit the best people, which sometimes is as a great mix of larger populations, universities’ involvement, and being an innovative and forward-thinking city. But really the number one thing is to invest in the employees. The employees need to know that they’re your number one asset. And we do a lot at Twist Bioscience to make sure that it’s their best experience. We want our employees to know they are valued. Being really organized as to how you pursue exciting opportunities is also really important as you scale and grow.