From basement lab to Wall Street: Absci looks to bring its 'protein printing' platform public
Sean McClain started Absci as a 22-year-old college graduate in a small basement lab — or as he called it, a “dungeon lab” — in downtown Portland, OR. Ten years later, he’s taking the company public.
Absci filed S-1 papers on Wednesday, penciling in a $100 million raise — though many companies in the last year have gone on to raise much more than their initial estimates.
What started as McClain’s search for a more efficient way to manufacture proteins in E. coli has led to the biotech’s protein printing platform, which the team hopes can shorten the R&D process. They’ve moved out of the basement lab, and McClain said back in April that he plans to increase the staff to 225 by the end of this year.
“If you look at the drug discovery and biomanufacturing processes, going from idea to drug in the clinic, it takes years,” the CEO told Endpoints News back in March. “What Absci’s protein printing platform is doing is flipping that process on its head, collapsing it into a single step … and being able to go from idea to drug in the clinic within weeks.”
Absci went commercial in 2018 with its E. coli expression platform, SoluPro, for producing soluble, complex proteins in high yields. The following year, it introduced its protein printing platform, which builds on SoluPro with technology designed to pump out high-diversity strain libraries and high-throughput screening assays.
In January, McClain bought out Denovium and its AI engine, with the goal of being able to do full in silico drug design and cell line development at the click of a button. Absci will feed the engine billions of data on protein functionality and manufacturability they’ve collected, and over time, the machine gets smarter.
“It learns and learns until you get to the point where it’s no longer spitting out, you know, billions of different things you should test. It’s starting to spit out thousands, and then hundreds and then ultimately you get to the point where it is fully predictive,” McClain said at the time.
Absci landed a $125 million crossover round back in March, and plans on using the IPO proceeds to expand its platform, according to an S-1 filing. The biotech has partnered with more than a dozen companies, ranging from Merck and Astellas to a host of smaller players.
“We believe we are replacing the fragmented steps and inefficiencies of the conventional biologic drug discovery and cell line development processes with our fully integrated, end-to-end platform designed to create new and better biologics and accelerate their advancement into clinical trials and ultimately into the marketplace where they can serve patients,” the company stated in the S-1.
The biotech would be the latest in a slew of synthetic biology startups to go public, after Ginkgo Bioworks and Zymergen. Ginkgo struck a massive SPAC deal with Harry Sloan’s Soaring Eagle Acquisition Corp. back in May, which set its pre-money valuation at $15 billion. And Zymergen raised $500 million in an upsized IPO in April.