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Biotech company expands antibody research, production facilities in Vancouver with government cash boost




The Canadian biotech company that helped develop the first antibody therapy treatment for COVID-19 is more than doubling the size of its planned expansion in Vancouver.

AbCellera Biologics announced a new $700-million project on Wednesday that will add research and development capacity to a manufacturing plant that has been in the works since 2020.

The federal government gave AbCellera $176 million toward a manufacturing plant in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic took off. This week, it announced another $225 million for research and clinical trial projects.

The British Columbia government is providing $75 million.

Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry François-Philippe Champagne says the province’s investment ensures that Canada is on the “forefront of antibody drug development.”

AbCellera senior vice-president Murray McCutcheon says the company’s new campus will be able to take research on antibody therapies from early ideas through to clinical trials.

Vaccines trigger the body to make antibodies to prevent or limit an infection before exposure, and antibody therapies are given to help a body fight off an infection after it has already started.

AbCellera partnered with drug giant Eli Lilly in 2020 to develop Bamlanivimab, which was authorized for use less than a year after the first case of COVID-19 was discovered — though it wasn’t used right away as provinces and territories asked for more information about the drug first.

Bamlanivimab is an antibody therapy that acts as a synthetic immunity, and can be given to patients in the early stages of COVID-19 to reduce the possibility of developing severe illness and death by up to 80 per cent. 

While AbCellera helped discover that therapy, the doses themselves were manufactured outside of Canada.

The new manufacturing plant is under construction and is set to be producing antibody therapies for clinical trials starting next year.

The latest project is adding lab space, equipment and technology to turn basic research into usable medicines, as well as programs that help get those medicines into clinical trials.

McCutcheon says the first focus is going to be on antibody therapies for use against cancer and autoimmune diseases.

The company was founded in 2012 and currently has about 500 employees. McCutcheon says the manufacturing plant and the new research and clinical trial project will add about 400 jobs.

B.C.’s life-sciences and biomanufacturing sector employs almost 20,000 people, according to the provincial government. 

In 2021, the life-sciences sector recorded $6.7 billion in revenue and generated $2.6 billion in gross domestic product, an increase of 30 per cent since 2018, it said.

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