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B.C. company expands antibody research, production facilities for second time

Francois-Philippe Champagne, centre, Federal Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, holds a 3D model of antibody medicines used to fight cancer as he and B.C. Premier David Eby, left, listen to Raffi Tonikian, AbCellera Director of Translational Biomarkers, during a tour of a lab at the company, in Vancouver, on Wednesday, May 24, 2023. The Canadian company that helped develop the first antibody therapy treatment for COVID-19 is more than doubling the size of its planned expansion in Vancouver. The federal government announced another $225 million in addition to the $176 million already provided and the province is contributing $75 million to a manufacturing plant that has been in the works since 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

VANCOUVER — A Vancouver-based company that helped develop the first antibody therapy treatment for COVID-19 is expanding its research and development capacity as it continues to pursue world-leading new medicines, says Innovation Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne.

AbCellera Biologics announced a $701-million federal and British Columbia-backed infrastructure project Wednesday that will increase the overall scope of a manufacturing plant, which has been in the works since 2020, to facilitate clinical trials and help deliver antibody medicines to patients.

The federal government gave AbCellera $176 million toward the manufacturing plant and announced another $225 million Wednesday for the research and clinical trial projects, Champagne told a news conference at AbCellera's headquarters.

The B.C. government is providing $75 million.

"We're building a global champion," Champagne said. "I think (of) this morning as one of the historic moments where we build a Canadian champion that we can all be proud of as Canadians."

AbCellera senior vice-president Murray McCutcheon said the company's expansion project, which is described as a biotech 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.

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

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

B.C. Premier David Eby said the expansion project will create more than 400 jobs, while ensuring world-leading medicines are developed in Canada for Canadians and people globally.

"This means new training for British Columbians, this investment today," he said. "It means access to frontline treatment through clinical trials. It means that when intellectual property is developed through research here that the financial benefits stay in our province and in our country."

The expansion of the medical research also means if there is another global pandemic "we have the capacity here in our province and our country to support Canadians and British Columbians," Eby said.

McCutcheon said the first focus will be on antibody therapies for use against cancer and autoimmune diseases.

The company was founded in 2012 and currently has about 500 employees.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 24, 2023.

The Canadian Press

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