Left to right: AbCellera head of BD Kevin Heyries, CEO Carl Hansen, COO Véronique Lecault, head of corporate development Murray McCutcheon

Ab­Cellera rais­es $105M in first ma­jor ven­ture round as Covid-19 an­ti­body nears clin­ic

Over its first decade of ex­is­tence, Ab­Cellera had many things: A new tech­nol­o­gy with sci-fi vibes, fund­ing from the Bill & Melin­da Gates Foun­da­tion, gov­ern­ment con­tracts, part­ner­ships with large phar­ma com­pa­nies and biotechs, a re­search fa­cil­i­ty in Van­cou­ver with dozens and then even­tu­al­ly over a hun­dred em­ploy­ees. Even, most re­cent­ly, a lead­ing ex­per­i­men­tal Covid-19 treat­ment.

They just didn’t have what al­most every biotech did: streams of ven­ture cash.

That’s chang­ing to­day. Ab­Cellera has an­nounced a $105 mil­lion Se­ries B round, led by Or­biMed and DCVC. The in­flux is more than 10 times the com­pa­ny’s 2018 Se­ries A: a $10 mil­lion round that came af­ter years of self-fund­ing through part­ner­ships. It will go to­ward adding more than 100 em­ploy­ees to the cur­rent 140-per­son staff, the com­ple­tion of a sprawl­ing new R&D fa­cil­i­ty next year and, even­tu­al­ly, its own man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­i­ty.

“It’s been quite a re­mark­able path to get here,” CEO Carl Hansen told End­points News. It “is quite a shift in strat­e­gy now in think­ing of a large fi­nanc­ing, which is re­flec­tive of our be­lief that there’s a huge op­por­tu­ni­ty and that cap­i­tal be­ing de­ployed in build­ing and in­te­grat­ing tech­nolo­gies, in build­ing ca­pac­i­ty, should be com­men­su­rate with that op­por­tu­ni­ty.

“We’re sort of chang­ing our pos­ture,” he added. “It’s now a pos­ture of ag­gres­sive growth.”

The fi­nanc­ing round comes af­ter Ab­Cellera has emerged from rel­a­tive anonymi­ty to be­come one of the most-watched de­vel­op­ers of Covid-19 treat­ments, writ­ten up in Busi­ness­week and MIT Tech­nol­o­gy Re­view. Their lab-on-a-chip de­vice, based on work Hansen had done at the Uni­ver­si­ty of British Co­lum­bia, iso­lates an­ti­body-pro­duc­ing cells from blood sam­ples and us­es ma­chine learn­ing to iso­late the best ones. They ob­tained a blood sam­ple from a Covid-19 sur­vivor in Feb­ru­ary, be­gan a part­ner­ship with Eli Lil­ly the next month, and the phar­ma gi­ant is plan­ning to file an IND for their lead an­ti­body by the end of the month — one of three com­pa­nies, along­side Vir and Re­gen­eron, on sim­i­lar clin­i­cal paths. Al­though not a vac­cine, an­ti­bod­ies have been used to ef­fec­tive­ly treat or, for a short pe­ri­od, pre­vent oth­er in­fec­tious dis­eases such as Ebo­la and RSV.

Ab­Cellera, though, had al­ready pro­vid­ed that “lab-on-a-chip” tech­nol­o­gy to nu­mer­ous oth­er com­pa­nies who had sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly de­fined tar­gets but want­ed Ab­Cellera’s ex­per­tise in se­lect­ing an­ti­bod­ies — they cite 55 dif­fer­ent “com­plet­ed pro­grams,” and have worked with Gilead, Pfiz­er, Glax­o­SmithK­line, Mer­ck, No­var­tis and the US De­part­ment of De­fense — and Hansen said the fi­nanc­ing had been un­der dis­cus­sions since the fall. Covid-19 changed lit­tle, ex­cept to pro­vide the same head­winds that have buf­fet­ed biotech: They’ve shuf­fled shifts and hours, even as they de­vot­ed much of their staff to an all-out ef­fort to de­vel­op a treat­ment.

“If any­thing Covid-19 is a time-com­pressed ex­am­ple of what we’ve built the com­pa­ny to do,” Hansen said. “To look at a sit­u­a­tion where there’s an ur­gent need for a ther­a­peu­tic and bring a tech­nol­o­gy to ac­cel­er­ate that.”

The Se­ries B (which al­so fea­tured Viking Glob­al In­vestors, Pe­ter Thiel, Founders Fund, Eli Lil­ly, Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta, and Pre­sight Cap­i­tal) will ex­pand their re­search ca­pac­i­ty to reach what Hansen said has been a long-run­ning rise in in­ter­est from oth­er com­pa­nies who want to part­ner with them. On top of tack­ling more pre­clin­i­cal projects, they’ll even­tu­al­ly be able to man­u­fac­ture an­ti­bod­ies through Phase II.

There are no plans, though, to bring their own drugs to mar­ket. Hansen is stick­ing with his bread and but­ter.

“The whole the­sis of the com­pa­ny is that we’re a tech­nol­o­gy and not a biotech,” he said. “We are not go­ing to change.”

Biotech and Big Phar­ma: A blue­print for a suc­cess­ful part­ner­ship

Strategic partnerships have long been an important contributor to how drugs are discovered and developed. For decades, big pharma companies have been forming alliances with biotech innovators to increase R&D productivity, expand geographical reach and better manage late-stage commercialization costs.

Noël Brown, Managing Director and Head of Biotechnology Investment Banking, and Greg Wiederrecht, Ph.D., Managing Director in the Global Healthcare Investment Banking Group at RBC Capital Markets, are no strangers to the importance of these tie-ups. Noël has over 20 years of investment banking experience in the industry. Before moving to the banking world in 2015, Greg was the Vice President and Head of External Scientific Affairs (ESA) at Merck, where he was responsible for the scientific assessment of strategic partnership opportunities worldwide.

No­var­tis' sec­ond at­tempt to repli­cate a stun­ning can­cer re­sult falls flat

Novartis’ hopes of turning one of the most surprising trial data points of the last decade into a lung cancer drug has taken another setback.

The Swiss pharma announced Monday that its IL-1 inhibitor canakinumab did not significantly extend the lives or slow the disease progression of patients with previously untreated locally advanced or metastatic non-small cell lung cancer when compared to standard of-care alone.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 120,700+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Credit: Shutterstock

How Chi­na turned the ta­bles on bio­phar­ma's glob­al deal­mak­ing

Fenlai Tan still gets chills thinking about the darkest day of his life.

Three out of eight lung cancer patients who received a tyrosine kinase inhibitor developed by his company, Betta Pharma, died in the span of a month. Tan, the chief medical officer, was summoned to Peking Union Medical College Hospital, where the head of the clinical trial department told him that the trial investigators would be conducting an autopsy to see if the patients had died of the disease — they were all very sick by the time they enrolled — or of interstitial lung disease, a deadly side effect tied to the TKI class that’s been reported in Japan.

James Peyer, Cambrian CEO

Brent Saun­ders joins $100M Se­ries C for a com­pa­ny out to be the Bridge­Bio of ag­ing

About a year ago, James Peyer, a CEO and co-founder of the little known longevity biotech Cambrian Biopharma, was trying to find some R&D talent last year when he met with more than a bit of experience in that department: David Nicholson, the former R&D chief of the erstwhile pharma giant Allergan.

It turned out Nicholson already had an interest in Peyer’s field. In their Allergan days, he and COO Brent Saunders held weekly meetups where they tried to figure out how to take the company’s dominance in aesthetics — which, until recently, was often what people meant by anti-aging science — and expertise with more traditional drug development, and use it to make drugs that extend people’s lifespan.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 120,700+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Ugur Sahin, AP Images

As pres­sure to share tech­nol­o­gy mounts, BioN­Tech se­lects Rwan­da for lat­est vac­cine site

BioNTech’s first mRNA-based vaccine site in Africa will call Rwanda home, and construction is set to start in mid-2022, the company announced Tuesday at a public health forum.

The German company signed a memorandum of understanding, after a meeting between Rwanda’s Minister of Health, Daniel Ngamije, Senegal’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Aïssata Tall Sall, and senior BioNTech officials. Construction plans have been finalized, and assets have been ordered. The agreement will help bring end-to-end manufacturing to Africa, and as many as several hundred million doses of vaccines per year, though initial production will be more modest.

No­var­tis dumps AveX­is pro­gram for Rett syn­drome af­ter fail­ing re­peat round of pre­clin­i­cal test­ing

Say goodbye to AVXS-201.

The Rett syndrome gene therapy drug made by AveXis — the biotech that was bought, kept separate, then renamed and finally absorbed by Novartis into its R&D division — has been dropped by the biopharma.

In Novartis’ third quarter financial report, the pharma had found that preclinical data did not support development of the gene therapy into IND-enabling trials and beyond. The announcement comes a year after Novartis told the Rett Society how excited it was by the drug — and its potential benefits and uses.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 120,700+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Katie Fanning, Mozart Therapeutics CEO

Mozart Ther­a­peu­tics makes its of­fi­cial de­but, jump­ing in­to the hot Treg R&D field with some big-name in­vestors back­ing it

Treg cells have been getting more and more attention recently among autoimmune specialists. There’s been Jeff Bluestone’s Sonoma, the $157 million launch of GentiBio this summer and Egle Therapeutics — which launched just last week — to name a few.

Now, there’s a new Treg player jumping in that wants to distinguish itself in the market: Mozart Therapeutics. Today, the biotech is emerging from stealth in its official debut with a $55 million Series A — with a bunch of A-list Big Pharma names on board a syndicate led by ARCH.

Vas Narasimhan, Novartis CEO (Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

With San­doz con­tin­u­ing to drag on No­var­tis, Vas Narasimhan says he may fi­nal­ly be ready for a sale or spin­off

After years of rehab work aimed at getting Sandoz in fighting trim to compete in a market overshadowed by declining prices, CEO Vas Narasimhan took a big step toward possibly selling or spinning off the giant generic drug player.

The pharma giant flagged plans to launch a strategic review of the business in its Q3 update, noting that “options range from retaining the business to separation.”

Analysts have been poking and prodding Novartis execs for years now as Narasimhan attempted to remodel a business that has been a drag on its performance during most of his reign in the CEO suite. The former R&D chief has made it well known that he’s devoted to the innovative meds side of the business, where they see the greatest potential for growth.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 120,700+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

FDA is much worse than its reg­u­la­to­ry peers at proac­tive­ly dis­clos­ing da­ta, re­searchers find

The European Medicines Agency and Health Canada continue to outpace the FDA when it comes to proactively releasing data on drugs and biologics the agency has reviewed, leading to further questions of why the American agency can’t be more transparent.

In a study published recently in the Journal of Law, Medicine, & Ethics, Yale and other academic lawyers and researchers found that between 2016 and April 2021, the EMA proactively released data for 123 unique medical products, while Health Canada proactively released data for 73 unique medical products between 2019 and April 2021. What’s more, the EMA and Health Canada didn’t proactively release the same data on the same drugs. In stark contrast, the FDA in 2018 only proactively disclosed data supporting one drug that was approved that year.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 120,700+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.