Business & academia — perfect partners to achieve UN Sustainable Development Goals

Mark Kotter
3 min readJul 27, 2021

A few weeks ago I had the privilege to be part of a fringe event at the United Nations High-Level Political Forum 2021. Our topic was how industry and academia collaborate to achieve the 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) the UN has effectively set the world.

These are big goals and I’m proud to say bit.bio’s business purpose — coding cells for health — is 100% aligned, specifically with SDG 3 — Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.

United Nations SDG3 — Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.

To achieve these big goals is going to take collaboration across the boundaries of industry and academia — which is what we discussed in our event. And here’s my summary of how that happens at bit.bio.

bit.bio was spun out of my academic lab; the tech around which the company is built allows us to reprogram human cells from one type into another with consistency not possible before. It’s a synthetic biology approach, or synbio for short.

Synbio represents a mind-shift in biology. It is based on the realisation that a cell is determined by genetic programs encoded in the DNA. Sequencing and CRISPR technology enabled us to read and write into the DNA.

And whilst we have been programming bacteria to produce medicines for a good while, the synbio tech that was created in my lab at the centre of bit.bio for the first time allows us to reliably execute DNA programs in cells and turn cells themselves into future medicines. It gives us an opportunity to be one of the foundational companies of this emerging field of synbio.

What I love about academia is the freedom and the creativity. The uptake of our technology in academia is rapidly accelerating. The creativity with which it is used provides new and unexpected opportunities — some of which I hope to share in the near future.

bit.bio benefits tremendously from the rigour that is part of the nature of excellent scientists in academia. On numerous occasions, their factual feedback has pushed us to up our game and produce better products. This approach has a lot in common with the tech world — they push out minimum viable products (MVPs) to early adopters so they can iterate as feedback from real users comes in.

On the other hand, we enable the research of our academic partners, e.g. by developing disease models. For example, together with Prof. Micheal Duchen, we are developing human models for studying mitochondrial diseases, a rare and often lethal group of disorders that affects patients in many different ways, making it particularly difficult to cure.

Our collaboration with the London Institute of Mathematics investigates even more fundamental levels of biology. Together we are creating new mathematical models to try and uncover the full language and codes that govern how all cells behave. It’s a beautiful, open, challenging scientific set of questions and something you would never do quite so freely inside a company.

And lastly as Ramy, our Chief Medical Officer highlighted, he is creating a network of academic collaborators who together will deliver transformational medicines. It’s no secret that bit.bio has ambitions in cell therapy — we make cells so the natural thing for us is to turn these into medicines.

These therapies will focus on diseases that currently do not have a cure. Our academic partners, world experts in their areas, are dedicating their career to improving the lives of the patients that are affected. Teaming up makes total sense: we have the cells, they have unique knowledge and experience, together that’s an powerful combination. If we work in partnership we have a much better chance of getting transformational therapies to every patient, everywhere.

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Mark Kotter

Clinician, scientist & entrepreneur transitioning biology to engineering for the benefit of patients.