AbCellera doubles down on Vancouver, kicking off 2nd expansion phase to build integrated antibody R&D shop

AbCellera is plowing ahead with its expansion strategy, kicking off the second phase of the development plan for its Vancouver headquarters in a bid to build a fully integrated antibody R&D operation.

Flush with cash from its $555.5 million IPO at the end of 2020, the Canadian antibody specialist broke ground on the first phase of its global headquarter expansion in April 2021. AbCellera employees are still more than a year from moving into the 170,000-square-foot facility, with occupancy targeted for late 2023, but the biotech has now launched the second phase of the expansion.

When the second, 210,000-square-foot facility, which is directly adjacent to the first site, is complete in 2025, it will give AbCellera capabilities beyond the antibody discovery engine that has supported its progress to date.

“The expansion will extend those capabilities to include activities that support the development of those antibodies into the clinic, including translational science, process development and clinical manufacturing,” Murray McCutcheon, Ph.D., senior vice president for corporate development at AbCellera, told Fierce Biotech. “Working together in these facilities will seamlessly integrate our discovery and clinical manufacturing teams as they build intentional workflows that will streamline the development of antibody drug candidates to the clinic.”

AbCellera is developing the second facility through a 50-50 partnership that it entered into with the real estate firm Beedie in March 2021. In June, AbCellera made a commitment to Beedie for a land loan of up to 7.5 million Canadian dollars ($5.6 million), plus a construction loan for up to 80% of Beedie’s share of construction costs. The equity investment balance of $15.2 million represents contributions to the joint venture.

The expansion comes against a backdrop of waning investor enthusiasm for AbCellera, which has seen its share price fall 83% to around $10 since it went public while riding high on the success of its COVID-19 antibody work with Eli Lilly. 

Asked what gives AbCellera the confidence to invest in the second phase of the expansion, McCutcheon pointed to the $170 billion market for antibody therapeutics and the growth of the firm’s partnering business. As of the end of June, AbCellera had 164 programs under contract, up 19% from one year earlier. The biotech grew its stable of discovery partners 15%, to 38, over the same period.

AbCellera had more than $1 billion in cash, cash equivalents and marketable securities on June 30. The company is also building a 130,000-square-foot clinical manufacturing facility close to its headquarters.