AbCellera partners with American pharmaceutical company on multi-year antibody discovery project


Vancouver-based biotechnology firm AbCellera has entered into a multi-year strategic research partnership and license agreement with American pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly and Company (Lilly).

The partnership will see AbCellera work to discover antibodies for nine therapeutic applications. Lilly will have the right to develop and commercialize any therapeutic products resulting from the research.

AbCellera recently received a commitment of up to $175.6 million from the Strategic Innovation Fund.

AbCellera said it was in talks with Lilly about a similar agreement in early 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic first emerged. The companies refocused the scope of the collaboration on creating antibody therapeutics for the prevention and treatment of COVID-19. In addition to the COVID-19 therapy, Lilly will select up to eight more targets during the agreement.

“By working together seamlessly, our teams have moved with unprecedented speed and have advanced from antibody discovery to a lead candidate for human testing in months instead of years,” said Carl Hansen, CEO of AbCellera. “We look forward to expanding our collaboration with Lilly, working together to continue to redefine how antibody treatments reach the patients who need them.”

The partnership comes a few weeks after AbCellera received a commitment of up to $175.6 million from the federal government under Innovation, Science, and Economic Development’s Strategic Innovation Fund (SIF). The funding was part of the government’s $192 million commitment to new COVID-19 projects that were prioritized under SIF.

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AbCellera’s federal government funding was intended to help the company expand efforts to discover antibodies for use in drugs to treat COVID-19, as well as build therapy technology for future pandemic threats. In addition to the support from the Government of Canada, AbCellera received an undisclosed amount of funding from the City of Vancouver.

Founded in 2012, AbCellera uses high-powered computers, artificial intelligence, and advanced lab technology to scan blood samples of patients who have recovered from COVID-19, and find antibodies from them that could be used in the treatment and prevention of the virus.

Under the terms of the agreement with Lilly, AbCellera received an undisclosed upfront payment and will receive research payments for the non-COVID-19 therapeutic targets. AbCellera is also eligible to receive pre-clinical, clinical, and commercial milestones and tiered royalties on future sales.

“Lilly chose to partner with AbCellera because of [its] novel technology platform, and it has enabled the rapid identification of lead antibody candidates for our COVID-19 efforts. We’re excited to now apply it to other therapeutic targets,” said Daniel Skovronsky, Lilly’s chief scientific officer and president of Lilly Research Laboratories. “AbCellera’s capabilities and team are extremely impressive and we are proud of the progress we’ve made together thus far.”

Image source AbCellera.

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle is a Vancouver-based writer with 5+ years of experience in communications and journalism and a lifelong passion for telling stories. For over two years, she has reported on all sides of the Canadian startup ecosystem, from landmark venture deals to public policy, telling the stories of the founders putting Canadian tech on the map.

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