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Gates Supporting Infectious Antibody Discovery

Human B-cell

Human B-cell (NIAID, Flickr)

14 Mar. 2019. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is enlisting a company that discovers therapeutic antibodies to help researchers develop new drugs and vaccines for serious infectious diseases. The company, AbCellera Biologics Inc. in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, is receiving $4.8 million to collaborate with the foundation’s funded researchers studying treatments and vaccines against HIV, malaria, and tuberculosis.

AbCellera uses what it calls deep mining of B-cells from the immune system to discover antibodies for preventing and treating diseases caused by a range of viruses and bacteria. B-cells are white blood cells in the immune system that produce antibodies, proteins that attack invading pathogens, such as bacteria and parasites. Unlike T-cells that respond to infections, B-cells respond directly to the invaders and, like some T-cells, retain that immune response over time, an essential property of many vaccines.

The company’s antibody discovery process combines a number of technologies, beginning with single-cell screening with microfluidics, or lab-on-a-chip devices. AbCellera also uses advanced bioinformatics for further analysis and high-throughput characterization to express hundreds of antibodies.

With the company’s acquisition of Lineage Biosciences in August 2018, AbCellera also gained the ability to sequence genes found in B-cells that code for antibodies. This repertoire sequencing, or Rep-Seq, capability, says the company, makes it possible to conduct a deeper analysis of antibodies that produce immune responses to infections, autoimmune diseases and, cancer, as well as take place in immunizations or vaccinations.

Under the new 2-year agreement with the Gates Foundation, AbCellera plans to help Gates-funded researchers more deeply examine and discover new antibodies, and provide more data for profiling immune responses. “Because our platform can screen millions of single B-cells per day,” says Kevin Heyries, who heads AbCellera’s business development in a company statement, “allowing us to identify rare and highly-potent antibodies from patient samples, the resulting fully-human antibodies can be used for the prevention of deadly diseases for which vaccine development has proven difficult. It’s a fresh approach to tackling humankind’s oldest infectious adversaries.”

This is the second collaboration for AbCellera with the Gates Foundation. In 2017, the company received an award to discover highly targeted synthetic antibodies against tuberculosis. Those antibodies would then be used to develop fast, inexpensive point-of-care tests for tuberculosis infections.

AbCellera works through partnerships and under contract to other companies and organizations, rather than develop a pipeline of its own. Its partnerships include many major pharmaceutical and biotechnology enterprises, as well as the Gates Foundation.

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