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Biotech Gains Antibody Discovery, Manufacturing Funds

Global Covid-19

(Gerd Altmann, Pixabay)

4 May 2020. A Canadian biotechnology company is receiving government funds for Covid-19 antibody discovery and manufacturing for current and future pandemics. AbCellera Biologics Inc. in Vancouver, British Columbia is set to receive up to $175.6 million from a Canadian government technology innovation fund, supplemented by funds from the city of Vancouver.

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 that produce antibodies, proteins that directly attack invading pathogens, such as bacteria and parasites. 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.

While located in Canada, AbCellera also works for U.S. government agencies. The company says it screened more than 5 million immune-system cells against a blood sample from one of the first people in the U.S. infected with novel coronavirus, for the the Vaccine Research Center at National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of NIH. From this screening, AbCellera says it identified some 500 unique human antibody sequences that respond to the SARS-CoV-2 virus responsible for Covid-19 infections. Those antibodies are expected to be used for new Covid-19 diagnostic tests.

The company is also helping Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, developing a pandemic prevention platform to protect armed forces deployed in the field. This platform identifies DNA- and RNA-based vaccines and treatments that generate antibodies to counteract pathogens faced by service members in remote parts of the world. As reported in March by Science & Enterprise, drug maker Eli Lilly and Co. is partnering with AbCellera to extend this platform to discover Covid-19 specific antibodies.

The new funding for AbCellera comes from the Canadian government’s Strategic Innovation Fund, part of its program for innovation, science, and economic development. The fund aims to encourage research and development that accelerates technology transfer and commercialization of new technologies. And the program also seeks to advance industrial R&D and technology through collaboration between researchers, industry, and not-for-profit organizations.

The new $175.6 million supports improvements to AbCellera’s discovery platform for antibodies used in Covid-19 vaccines or therapeutics, as well as discover antibodies to combat future pandemics. A second stage of the project aims to build antibody production facilities meeting Good Manufacturing Practice regulations and standards for pharmaceuticals required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The facility would be the first in Canada to develop and produce antibody drugs from a patient sample through manufacturing. The Vancouver city government is adding an undisclosed amount.

“Our government is mobilizing its resources to confront Covid-19,” says Navdeep Bains, Canada’s minister of innovation, science and industry, in an AbCellera statement, “supporting the researchers and businesses that are working hard to develop medical countermeasures to beat this pandemic.”

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