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Vancouver’s AbCellera partners with Moderna on new antibody treatments

Deal nabs AbCellera research payments, potential milestone payments
AbCellera's new manufacturing facility, set to open in 2024, will be built on the 900-block of Evans Avenue in Vancouver's east side | Submitted

Two life sciences firms making names for themselves developing medicines aimed at COVID-19 are now teaming up.

Vancouver-based AbCellera Biologics Inc. (Nasdaq:ABCL) revealed Wednesday it’s partnering with Moderna Inc. (Nasdaq:MRNA) in a deal that will see the American biotech company tap AbCellera's technology.

AbCellera rose to prominence when pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Co. (NYSE:LLY) began using the West Coast company’s platform to zero in on antibodies generated in a natural immune response to COVID-19.

Orders for Lilly’s treatment, known as bamlanivimab, exploded following approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration last November. Bamlanivimab isn’t meant to be administered to the general population but to those already infected with COVID-19.

AbCellera went public in December 2020, raising US$555 million to become the first in a string of “unicorns” (companies valued at US$1 billion or more) to emerge from B.C. in the past 10 months.

The partnership with Moderna, which made its name developing a COVID-19 vaccine, will see the American biotech using AbCellera’s AI-powered technology to search and analyze natural immune responses to identify therapeutic antibodies aimed at as many as six targets.

Moderna will have the rights to develop and commercialize those antibodies, while AbCellera will receive research payments and potential milestone payments based on the commercial success of any treatments that emerge.

AbCellera’s technology can be deployed for treatments beyond just COVID-19, while Moderna’s mRNA vaccine technology can also be used beyond only fighting the novel coronavirus.

The Vancouver company recently selected a site on the 900-block of Evans Avenue in the city’s east side for its new 130,000-square-foot facility specializing in the production of therapeutic antibodies. The building costs are pegged at up to $250 million.

A new 380,000-square-foot headquarters is also under construction three kilometres west in the city’s Mount Pleasant neighbourhood.

The facility, due to break ground later this year before opening in 2024, combined with the new HQ would be the first of such scale in Canada capable of going from a patient sample to manufacturing antibodies for clinical testing.

“Up until now we've been a research-based company,” Murray McCutcheon, AbCellera’s vice-president of corporate development, told BIV back in June.

“We are tremendously excited at this announcement, which is allowing us to move forward with the construction of the GMP [good manufacturing practices] manufacturing facility so that we can develop and manufacture the antibodies that we discovered.”

Its new facility is being funded in part by a grant from the federal government’s Strategic Innovation Fund (SIF).

In May 2020, Ottawa earmarked $175.6 million from the SIF to AbCellera to bolster the country’s response to future pandemics both through the company’s existing drug discovery technology as well as the development of a manufacturing facility.

The deal struck with the federal government will see AbCellera match the SIF funding dollar for dollar.

“We know that we have grounds to make up in terms of biomanufacturing nationally, and we're incredibly excited to partner with the Government of Canada in the development of this facility and help us respond faster next time,” McCutcheon said.

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