Illness fires entrepreneur’s interest in synthetic biology

Bill Liao’s daughter’s diagnosis with type 1 diabetes has fired his latest passion — reprogramming biological cells.

Mr Liao, a European Venture Partner at SOSventures, is aiming to make Cork and UCC the world leader in synthetic biology.

His daughter was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, meaning she is dependent on insulin that has been produced by reprogrammed cells.

“My daughter would be dead without this,” said Mr Liao. “She is a type 1 diabetic and the best insulin in the world comes from synthetic biology and comes from cells that have been modified to produce human insulin. Bacteria that make human insulin, without that technology she would have a miserable life.”

SOSventures has launched Synbio Axlr8r to attract to Cork the next wave of start-ups operating at the cutting-edge of computing and biology.

“I’m starting an initiative called Synbio Axlr8r,” said Mr Liao. “The newest area of technology is synthetic biology. It is where biology and programming meet. You can actually write code in a language called Python, which is used for web development, and then they compile it in to DNA and upload it to cells and give them a new purpose.”

Synbio Axlr8r will offer a $30,000 (€22,000) investment and lab space in UCC for start-ups to bring their ideas to investment stage.

“The applications for being able to program DNA and tun them into useful micromachines that do stuff, it is going to revolutionise technology and currently there is no one centre of excellence in the world,” said Mr Liao. “In UCC this year, starting in May, we are doing an accelerator programme. We are giving them $30,000 and lab space to start their business.”

The accelerator will have seven-figure funding from SOSventures and run in conjunction with Cork County Council. Mr Liao said it was a pity there were not more state agencies involved, but the wheels of the State were slow to turn.

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