China’s Shenzhen builds complete innovation chain to empower synthetic biology enterprises

By Cheng Yuanzhou, Sun Zhen, People’s Daily

In less than five years, Synceres Biosciences, a high-tech startup located in the Guangming Science City, a cluster of scientific and technological facilities in Shenzhen, south China’s Guangdong province, has grown into a “rising star” valued at over 1 billion yuan ($137.95 million) in the synthetic biology industry.

It has developed from a company initially staffed with two or three employees to a high-tech pioneer drawing nearly 300 million yuan in funding and hiring nearly 200 employees, turning from a research-focused organization publishing papers in prestigious journals like Nature to a manufacturer that sells products globally.

This remarkable progress would not have been possible without the supportive innovation ecosystem fostered by the Guangming Science City.

Luo Xiaozhou, co-founder of Synceres Biosciences, showed People’s Daily reporters around at the Industrial Innovation Center for Engineering Biology (hereafter referred to as the “Innovation Center”), which was co-established by the People’s Government of Guangming District of Shenzhen and the Shenzhen Institute of Advanced Technology (SIAT) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). It helps build the Guangming Science City into a national synthetic biology industry hub, also where Luo’s company is located.

He explained that the Innovation Center enables startups not only to undertake basic research but also to commercialize their findings into actual products. Furthermore, he added, there is an industrialization park nearby where companies can scale up to mass production.

“A complete innovation chain is our greatest strength,” he told People’s Daily.

As a pilot zone for the comprehensive national science center in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area (GBA), the Guangming Science City aims to build itself into a source of original innovation in basic research and a test bed for efficient commercialization of technologies.

Based on major scientific and technological innovation facilities and institutions, the Guangming Science City has established engineering and technological innovation centers, and built a model of “fostering innovation upstairs and nurturing entrepreneurship downstairs” in the Innovation Center that serves enterprises from scientific research to industrial application.

On the first floor of the Innovation Center, the latest products developed by synthetic biology enterprises are exhibited, including Synceres Biosciences, Bontac Bio-engineering, and Cytorola Biomedical.

Luo Wei, a researcher with the Shenzhen Institute of Synthetic Biology (iSynBio), a scientific research institute led by SIAT, told People’s Daily that researchers gather here for originalinnovations, striving to achieve breakthroughs in core technologies in key fields of the synthetic biology industry.

Besides, business incubators also cluster here for engineering development and pilot-scale commercialization of the original innovations, thus driving the industrial application of scientific and technological achievements, Luo Wei added.

“With researchers and companies working side-by-side, a single creative spark could ignite a new idea, and commercialization bottlenecks could be cleared, which greatly shortens the cycle for converting research into viable products,” said Luo Wei.

Luo Xiaozhou, apart from being a researcher at the iSynBio of SIAT, is also an entrepreneur at the Innovation Center. Through an equity investment model, the SIAT can transfer its research achievements to Synceres Biosciences. They have also established a joint lab, sharing research resources and talent to promote the deep integration of the innovation, industrial, capital, and talent chains.

Last November, a major scientific and technological infrastructure for synthetic biology research was launched in the Guangming Science City, providing further momentum for enterprises here. The new products launched by Synceres Biosciences this year were exactly developed with its support.

To promote the development of the synthetic biology industry, the Guangming Science City has rolled out targeted policies, set up a special fund to support industry development, built specialized industrial parks, and established a relatively complete industrial ecosystem. Thanks to these efforts, the local synthetic biology industry has rapidly developed into a cluster of over 90 companies with a total value reaching 27 billion yuan in just a few years.

In the Guangming Science City, the development model of “fostering innovation upstairs and nurturing entrepreneurship downstairs” is being vigorously promoted, which is based on the 24 major scientific and technological innovation facilities and institutions established there, including a major scientific and technological infrastructure for brain analysis and brain simulation, a materials genome facility, and the Shenzhen Medical Academy of Research and Translation. This model is evolving into various innovative ecosystems tailored to local conditions.

Leveraging the major scientific and technological infrastructure for brain analysis and simulation, a team led by researcher Wei Pengfei with the Brain Cognition and Brain Disease Institute of SIAT has developed mature technologies in non-invasive brain-computer interface (BCI) devices. These technologies have been invested in Shenzhen Zhongkehuayi Technology Co., Ltd., or Neuroplus, which was initially set up at the Shenzhen Guangming Industrial Innovation Center for Brain Science and Technology.

“High-level scientific research and clinical research institutions, upstream and downstream enterprises, as well as professional investment and financing institutions are clustered here, forming an innovative brain science alliance. Researchers and entrepreneurs have become ‘next-door neighbors’, helping startups grow rapidly,” said Wei.

According to Wei, Neuroplus has “graduated” from the Shenzhen Guangming Industrial Innovation Center for Brain Science and Technology and moved to another brain science and brain-inspired intelligence industrial park.

So far, the SIAT has incubated 14 companies related to brain science with a total value exceeding 2.2 billion yuan.

“While driving the industrial application of technologies, Guangdong province has taken a forward-looking approach to developing biological manufacturing. We have established world-leading scientific and technological infrastructure for synthetic biology and created an innovative service platform for biological manufacturing. In the past three years, half of Chinese synthetic biology companies have settled in Guangdong,” said an official with the Guangdong Provincial Development and Reform Commission.


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