COVID-19 roundup: AbCellera considering IPO as early as fall

In this illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in January 2020 shows the 2019 Novel Coronavirus. The Canadian Press/CDC via AP, File

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Scenes from a biotech gold rush: Vancouver-based AbCellera Biologics told The Globe and Mail it’s considering a public listing as early as November, more than a year ahead of schedule. An offshoot of its co-founders’ lab work at the University of British Columbia, the firm uses microfluidics technologies—essentially instrumentation at tiny, tiny scale—as well as AI and machine vision to spot promising antibodies that could form the basis of therapies. 

AbCellera has spent much of the year focused on COVID-19, partnering with pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly on a treatment that began human testing last month. The company might typically take six months to get from a sample of to hundreds of antibody candidates, CFO Andrew Booth explained to The Logic earlier this year. For COVID-19, AbCellera did it in less than a week, and also sped up the process of identifying lead options. “We are drastically shrinking the timelines for getting something to patients,” he said.

A successful IPO would mark a third major cash injection for the biotech firm this year. In early May, Ottawa awarded AbCellera $175.6 million from the Strategic Innovation Fund to keep working on its technology and establish a facility to make antibodies for clinical trials. Weeks later, the company announced a US$105-million Series B round, which will help pay for the manufacturing plant as well as a new R&D space.

If it does go public, AbCellera would follow several major Canadian biotech offerings. In June, cancer-focused Fusion Pharmaceuticals and Repare Therapeutics each raised more than US$200 million in their Nasdaq debuts. But unlike those firms, AbCellera doesn’t develop, test or market drugs or treatments itself, instead handing off the antibody candidates it finds to other companies. 

Drinking from the firehose:

  • The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation is looking at developing “new tools” to help lenders and homeowners avoid a mortgage-deferral cliff.
  • Scotiabank employees will be working from home until 2021. 
  • Health Canada has conditionally authorized Gilead Sciences’ remdesivir, the first treatment to get approval, for patients who develop pneumonia and need extra oxygen to help them breathe. 
  • The federal government delivered $2.95 million to Innovate BC to help the province’s tech sector recover from the economic fallout of COVID-19. One of the programs will support Main Street business in regional communities, while the other will offer tools and mentorship to help tech entrepreneurs revise their business plans. 
  • U.S. Senate Republicans released their US$1-trillion coronavirus relief package. Here is everything it includes. 
  • California’s attorney general and public health agencies are investigating Amazon after a warehouse worker filed a lawsuit alleging the company put workers at “needless risk” during the pandemic.
  • Tesla, whose CEO Elon Musk has tweeted against government benefits, took “certain payroll related benefits” to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic.
  • Next year’s CES, the world’s largest tech conference, has already been moved online. 
  • The small group of Muslims embarking on Hajj this week are experiencing a high-tech pilgrimage, including wristbands to monitor movement, digital personal ID cards that can be used to buy things and clothes laced with nano-technology that helps kill bacteria. 

Six months, in photos: British Columbia announced its first COVID-19 case on January 28, upending normal life for the province and the country. 

* We’re emphasizing new cases, rather than running totals, because “flattening the curve” is when each day’s new cases are fewer than those of the previous day. The percentage increase is determined based on how today’s cases compare to a rolling seven-day prior average. 


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