From cellist to synthetic cell-ist: Jeffrey Kim scores $23M to reimagine blood tests, cell therapy

July 26, 2021

From Endpoints News

It wasn’t always Jeffrey Kim’s ambition to launch a biotech. In fact, after graduating with his bachelor’s degree in molecular biology from Princeton University, the young cellist set out to become a professional musician in New York.

Kim was struggling to get by on a musician’s budget, recording for various studios while teaching guitar and doing anything else music-related he could. He also began working in a couple labs part-time, where he discovered that, like music, scientific research demands an incredible amount of creativity.

“I really loved that aspect of it,” Kim said.

In 2007, he decided to pursue a graduate degree in biochemistry at The Rockefeller University. He graduated with his PhD in 2010 and has since co-founded multiple companies, including Radiant Genomics, which was bought out by Zymergen back in 2018.

On Thursday morning, Kim unveiled his latest project: a synthetic cell company called Slingshot Biosciences that’s been operating under the radar for nearly a decade. And with a fresh $23 million, he’s ready to speed up the tempo.

When patients get a blood test — which happens around 750 times per second in the US, Kim said — those samples are compared to a reference, or control, which is made of a mixture of human and chemically treated animal blood. In some cases, that could mean alligator blood, or shark blood.

“There’s a lot of animal components that go into that mixture, because human blood does not stabilize very well,” the CEO said.

However, those “mimics” are often costly, prone to supply chain issues, and sometimes drawn from endangered animals outside the US, Kim said (like alligators, which were hunted close to extinction before making a comeback in the US in recent decades).

“We realized that we can just make it synthetically,” he said. “We can actually individually print synthetic cells made out of a commodity polymer that is incredibly cheap, that is consistent, it’s scalable, and it allows us to make these controls much more quickly and more affordably.”

The nine-person team is also working on making cells that are much more stable, Kim added, potentially lasting years instead of a couple days. They launched their first commercial synthetic cells this past year, spanning controls, diagnostics and adoptive cell therapies.

Slingshot plans on using the Series A round, led by Northpond Ventures, for a couple things, including building up its sales team. Another chunk of change will go toward creating a series of reagents and offerings in the cell therapy space that the company is developing and plans on commercializing in parallel.

“We can fundamentally reduce the costs and the barrier to entry for multiple indications and then, by reducing the cost we can also enter other markets, and provide these therapeutics ultimately to developing nations as well,” Kim said.

In addition to Northpond, ARCH Venture and Anterra Capital also chipped into the round.

“You can create businesses that, a) demand creativity, but b) can have a massive impact on practical real world problems. And that’s what kind of got me hooked on going into biotech,” Kim told Endpoints News. “I started with music, and then ended up kind of where I am now, but … I can’t pretend to say that it was my goal the entire time.”