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Antibody Drug Biotech Raises $105M in Venture Funds

Human B-cell

Human B-cell (NIAID, Flickr)

27 May 2020. A company that says it has a faster process for discovering therapeutic antibodies is raising $105 million in its second venture finance round. The new funding for AbCellera Biologics Inc. in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada follows a string of government awards and collaboration deals — particularly for discovery of Covid-19 therapeutics — and its first venture round since the start of the year.

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 directly attack invading pathogens, such as bacteria, viruses, 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 and artificial intelligence for further analysis and high-throughput characterization to express hundreds of antibodies.

The company focuses much of its current work on discovering antibodies to prevent and treat Covid-19 infections from the SARS-CoV-2 virus. In March, AbCellera signed a deal with drug maker Eli Lilly and Company to discover antibodies for Covid-19 vaccines and therapies, in partnership with National Institute of of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Last week, AbCellera and Lilly extended their collaboration to cover up to nine more therapy targets. Financial details of those agreements were not disclosed.

And earlier in May, as reported in Science & Enterprise, AbCellera received a $175.6 million award from the Canadian government’s Strategic Innovation Fund, to discover antibodies for Covid-19 vaccines or therapeutics, as well as combat future pandemics. A second part of the project aims to build antibody production facilities meeting Good Manufacturing Practice or GMP regulations and standards for pharmaceuticals.

The new funding round is led by life science venture investor OrbiMed and current investor DCVCBio, the health care technology division of DCVC Data Collective. Joining in the round are Viking Global Investors, Peter Thiel, Founders Fund, Eli Lilly and Co., University of Minnesota, and Presight Capital. In February, AbCellera raised $15 million in its first venture round led by Anterra Capital.

AbCellera expects to devote the new funds to advancing and broadening the company’s technology beyond its current 55 programs to more complex biologics, such as bio-conjugates, gene-encoded biologics, and cell therapies. In addition, the company plans to open a new research lab next year, build a GMP-compliant manufacturing facility, and expand its workforce.

“Drug development takes too long, fails too often, and costs too much,” says AbCellera’s CEO Carl Hansen in a company statement. Hansen adds, “We’re building a modern operating system for drug developers to ensure the best science is translated quickly into new therapies for patients.”

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