Biotechnology company AbCellera is turning again to venture capital to drum up new customers for its business of discovering antibodies that can be turned into medicines.
On Wednesday, AbCellera revealed a partnership with Atlas Venture to support a startup company the biotech investor previously launched, one week after announcing a similar collaboration with Versant Ventures.
Under the deal, the Atlas-backed startup, which remains in “stealth” mode, can develop AbCellera-discovered antibodies aimed at three drug targets. AbCellera will receive research payments in return, as well as success-based milestone payments and potential royalties on any medicine that reaches market.
An antibody specialist, AbCellera has built a web of drugmaker partnerships, from large pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer, Gilead and Eli Lilly to a range of smaller biotechs. The company discovered two COVID-19 antibodies that Lilly developed into treatments authorized for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration. (Although one was later withdrawn after proving ineffective versus omicron.)
While a staple of pharmaceutical toolkits, antibody drugs can still take many years and significant funds to develop. AbCellera hopes to change that, CEO Carl Hansen said in an interview, and help lift biotech companies off the ground in the process. AbCellera has developed laboratory and software technology it claims can more readily discover antibody candidates — the starting material for a new drug.
“For me, this is probably one of the most exciting ways in which companies like ours ... can really move the needle for drug development,” Hansen said.
He added that his company can help startups be more capital efficient, an important advantage as the biotech sector faces a challenging market environment.
While the partnership with Versant grew out of previous work, the deal with Atlas is new, and something Hansen hopes to build upon. “We hope that this will also expand and grow and see opportunities for other venture capital groups,” he said.
Although both partnerships have similarities, Hansen claimed competition between the two is not a concern and sees the deals as a “win-win relationship on both fronts.”
AbCellera might enter similar agreements with other venture firms in the future, but for now is focusing on its partnerships with Versant and Atlas.