Healthcare and diagnostics is a field of extensive research within the synthetic biology community. XENO is a Czech startup that sees cells as biocomputers that can detect medical phenotypes. I had the chance to interview Daniel Georgiev, the CEO of the company and ask hm about the company’s vision and journey.
Kostas Vavitsas: How did XENO start and where is it going in the the next few years?
Daniel Georgiev: XENO spun out from my lab at the UWB (University of West Bohemia). The idea of using microbes for diagnostics was presented at iGEM 2015, where our team placed second overall and first in health and medicine. This was the first team from the Czech Republic to participate in iGEM.
Currently we are on track to introduce within the next few years biological processing in the field of liquid biopsy. In complement to standard genetic testing of cell free DNA, our technology will consider the cells in the fluid sample and offer a complete characterization of interesting yet rare phenotypes. We hope to address early disease detection as well as late stage treatment.
Kostas: Which market are you aiming at?
Daniel: XENO aims to redefine the scope of liquid biopsy to include phenotypic data. We want to enable detection and tracking of rare events with the throughput of NGS. Currently, hours of dedicated instrument time are required to simply detect circulating tumor cells in a single sample. We are engineering microbial systems that can perform the same task in a test tube. With this technology we hope to empower liquid biopsy companies to obtain actionable data faster.
Kostas: Can you explain the idea behind your technology?
Daniel: We genetically and chemically engineer microbial consortia to collect and integrate immunochemical data. These consortia work locally, essentially applying positive and negative gates to each potentially target cell. An event that passes all such gates is then amplified and transformed into a readout signal that can be readily measured by standard means. Consequently information about rare cells becomes available without ever having to enrich or screen the sample cells.
Kostas: How was the experience of founding and developing a synthetic biology company in Czech republic?
Daniel: On the upside, the Czech Republic is a great place to found and scale a biotech company. Life sciences have a long history in this region, which naturally translates to a rich talent pool. This combined with a low operational index and low competition in the startup domain makes for an attractive research environment. We were lucky to assemble a diverse, talented and committed core team. On the downside, there is little precedent. We are the first SynBio startup from the region. This forces us to constantly place a lot of emphasis on connecting with existing biotech hubs and outside business partners. And of course we welcome visitors.
Daniel Georgiev is a systems theorist and a synthetic biologist. He received a PhD in Systems and control theory and an MSc in Applied mathematics from the University of Michigan. Following a postdoc in the Klavins Lab, University of Washington, he was appointed associate professor at the University of West Bohemia, Czech Republic. There he founded the first regional synthetic biology laboratory that spawned the 2015 iGEM runner-up team as well as the biotechnology startup XENO. As a CEO of XENO, his goal is to transform data collection with biological processing.