British Columbia

Vancouver biotech firm gets big financial boost in fight against COVID-19

AbCellera is among several companies that will share $192 million under new federal government fund.

AbCellera is among several companies that will share $192M under new federal government fund

Ester Falconer, senior research scientist at AbCellera is pictured in their lab in Vancouver, British Columbia on Thursday, March 12, 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

A Vancouver-based biotech firm at the forefront of antibody discovery technology has just received a big financial boost from the Canadian government in its fight against COVID-19.

Earlier today, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that AbCellera is among several companies that will share $192 million under the federal government's new Strategic Innovation Fund's COVID-19 stream.

"Canada is home to some of the most skilled and brightest researchers in the world, who are working hard to develop countermeasures that will protect the health and safety of Canadians and support international efforts to fight this pandemic," said Trudeau in a statement.

"We are all in this together, and need to be doing our part to prevent the spread of the virus."

AbCellera is using high-powered computers, artificial intelligence and advanced lab technology to scan blood samples of patients who have recovered from COVID-19, and find antibodies from them that could be used in the treatment and prevention of the virus.

Antibodies are proteins produced by the immune system that bind to foreign substances like viruses or bacteria in the body. Discovering an antibody that binds to the COVID-19 virus could lead to a possible anti-viral treatment.

Watch scientists from Vancouver biotech company AbCellera explain their work:

Vancouver biotech firm looking for a COVID-19 cure

The National

1 year ago
3:04
Vancouver biotech firm AbCellera is looking for a COVID-19 cure. They believe antivirals, like those used to treat HIV, could be the key. 3:04

Company representatives were unavailable for an interview on Monday, but in an emailed statement, AbCellera COO and founder Véronique Lecault said they are "deeply honoured to receive this support and are working closely with Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada on finalizing the details."

In an earlier CBC interview, AbCellera CEO Carl Hansen explained that for two years the company has been preparing the technology for exactly this kind of situation, and is "ideally suited to respond quickly to this outbreak."

The company was the first in North America to receive a sample from a recovering patient, and within days had identified more than 500 antibodies that show potential in the development of COVID-19 treatments.

"Their immune system has done its job and it has cleared the virus, so in there they have the special sauce and that is where we want to look and find these therapeutics," said Ester Falconer, senior research scientist at AbCellera in an earlier interview.

The company has joined forces with biopharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly to rapidly manufacture a treatment and take it to clinical trials this summer, if they are successful.

The federal government is funding nearly 100 research teams focused on rapidly developing ways to diagnose and treat patients with COVID-19.

"Canada is benefiting from the impressive and innovative power of Canadian researchers and businesses in our coordinated national approach to fight COVID-19," said Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, in a statement.

"Together, we are rapidly scaling-up our capacity in research and in manufacturing the products we will need during the pandemic."


If you have a COVID-19-related story we should pursue that affects British Columbians, please email us at impact@cbc.ca. 

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