July 19, 2024

Colossal Biosciences, the Texas-based company working to bring back the wooly mammoth, is creating a spinoff software company that will focus on using data technology to advance bioscience.
The newly independent company, Form Bio, will focus on computational life science, which is the intersection of biology, medicine and computer science. The company’s software platform is designed to help biotechnology companies such as Colossal Biosciences speed up innovation and collaboration by giving users a range of data tools that use artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies.
Colossal Biosciences is led by Austin-based entrepreneur Ben Lamm and geneticist George Church of Harvard Medical School. The company, which has offices in Austin, Dallas and Boston, was formed last year with the goal of advancing the field of de-extinction and combating climate change. It’s most famous for its lofty dream of bringing back the wooly mammoth, and recently announced plans to try and back another extinct animal, the Tasmanian tiger.
Form Bio will be led by a pair of co-CEOs: Kent Wakeford, who was previously Colossal’s chief operating officer; and Andrew Busey, Colossal’s chief product officer. Colossal CEO Ben Lamm also helped found the new company, which has done work for Colossal as its core computational biology team. The two companies will continue to work together on de-extinction issues.
Colossal executives previously said they planned to spin off technology and companies, and Form Bio is the first example of tech it developed being made into a standalone company. The new company will have offices in Austin and Dallas, with the majority of its team based in Central Texas for now.
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Colossal plans to use breakthrough gene-editing technologies to restore animals including the wooly mammoth and the Tasmanian Tiger. It has predicted it could bring both animals back within the next decade. In order to make de-extinction possible, Colossal has been working to develop a range of innovative technologies and teams, including a software team to do work in comparative genomic analysis.
Colossal’s wooly mammoth is expected to be a hybrid of an Asian elephant and a mammoth. The company has been building on work done by Church, who used a technology known as CRISPR to copy mammoth genes into the genome of an Asian elephant in 2015.  CRISPR, an acronym for “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats,” is a revolutionary biotechnology that has the potential to edit DNA and could be used in a variety of ways.  Form Bio’s technology was developed to help accelerate this process.
“On our path to de-extinction and species preservation, we are building technical knowledge that has much larger applications to both human health care and other problems,” Lamm said. 
Form Bio’s software platform lets users export data any way they choose, perform computational analysis using artificial intelligence tools and machine learning and then share the resulting information with peers and others in their industry.
Lamm, a serial entrepreneur who has founded several companies, said software was a natural starting point for innovation for Colossal. The company has been working to create software tools for comparative genomics and computational biology.
“We started innovating around building a tool internally that we could leverage to make all of the comparative to genomics, it’s much faster, much better,” Lamm said. “We’re pushing the bounds of these tools and we’re developing new tools.
Form Bio’s software was created by a Colossal team coming up with tools for things it felt could be better automated, or have an algorithm built to create better systems for synthetic biology discoveries. For example, stronger communication tools. 
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Colossal’s partners, including universities like Harvard and the University of Melbourne, started using the in-house software and it became apparent there were broader uses in fields like molecule design or cancer research, Lamm said.
Form Bio’s software is designed to help teams with data visualization, collaboration, workflow and data management to better organize and streamline data. Its customers are expected to include academia, pharma and biotech companies, as well as developers, manufacturers and lab directors. 
“Any user of the platform can use any cloud provider to import data from third parties, leverage its sequences, and export it to wherever they want. It’s a tool set that anyone could use, to import whatever they need into and then use the data,” Wakeford said.
Wakeford said the platform, which is largely powered by machine learning algorithms, will be able to take biological data and run analysis on it, such as predicting gene edits, design for a molecule or helping in the manufacturing process. 
“You can optimize it to actually create whatever it is that you want to create,” Wakeford said. “The applications started within de-extinction, but we see the ability to help everything from the cell and gene therapies, biomaterials, biofuels, recyclable plastics, food alternatives. There’s a huge area of innovation that is being driven by advancements in synthetic biology, and our platform can help all of them.”
The new company has plans for swift growth, and has already raised $30 million. Form Bio currently employs about 40 people, with plans to grow to about 75 employees by the end of 2023.
Wakeford said Texas in particular is becoming a hotbed of biotechnology talent, and the software tools Form Bio is creating will help speed up innovation.
“Texas is making big investments to become one of the leading hubs of bio manufacturing in the United States, all the way from Houston up to Dallas, and there’s multiple, big manufacturing plants too,” Wakeford said. “Form Bio will play a key role in helping this industry grow in advance its scientific innovation throughout Texas, as well as the rest of the country.” 


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