Google builds in biotech AI with Ginkgo alliance

Ginkgo Bioworks

Google Cloud and Ginkgo Bioworks have started a five-year partnership to bring artificial intelligence to biotech in areas including genomics, protein studies, and infectious disease preparedness.

Ginkgo is committing more than $250 million over the next five years to the alliance – with Google contributing funding of up to $56.3 million – and the partners plan to develop new large language models (LLMs) in the mould of ChatGPT with applications in areas like drug discovery and biosecurity.

Under the terms of the deal, Google will become Ginkgo's primary cloud provider and help the company bring "certain milestones" to fruition over the next three years in projects powered by its Vertex AI platform.

Shares in Ginkgo rose sharply after the deal was announced today, as investors responded to the closer ties with the tech giant. Google said it is the first deal of its kind for its Cloud unit and is a key part of its plan to apply its AI to the life sciences category.

"Ginkgo will play a critical and pioneering role in the life sciences space, leveraging AI to reshape humanity's understanding of biology," said Google Cloud's chief executive, Thomas Kurian, in a statement.

Ginkgo operates a biotech-as-a-service model for customers across various industries and companies - including Bayer, Biogen, Merck, Sumitomo Chemical, and Syngenta - mainly via its Foundry platform, which automates and scales the process of engineering organisms used in the production of biological products.

The company has been building its presence in biopharma with a series of acquisitions and deals aimed at extending the scope of its platforms, including a $300 million acquisition of synthetic biology company Zymergen, the takeover of StrideBio and its adeno-associated virus (AAV) capsid technology for gene modification, and pair of alliances with Merck & Co/MSD aimed at improving efficiencies in the manufacture of small-molecule and biologic drugs.

With Google, the company plans to apply AI to its massive database of unique protein sequences and functional assay data to develop models and applications that will be used internally and offered to other groups via the Google Cloud Marketplace.

"We believe that by partnering with Google Cloud, Ginkgo can supercharge our mission to make biology easier to engineer," said Jason Kelly, Ginkgo's co-founder and chief executive. "The most pressing challenges of our generation require biological solutions, and we must figure out how to better leverage our collective capabilities and move faster."