Novartis inks 10-target antibody discovery deal with AbCellera

Novartis headquarters
AbCellera described the Novartis deal as "very significant" for its business. (Wikimedia Commons/Andrew/Flickr)

Novartis has struck a deal to apply AbCellera’s antibody discovery capabilities to up to 10 targets. The deal sees Novartis join GlaxoSmithKline, Merck & Co. and Pfizer on the list of companies partnered with the antibody discovery shop.

AbCellera’s business is built on a platform that searches immune responses to find naturally derived antibodies. Vancouver-based AbCellera thinks the depth of its screening gives the platform an edge over hybridoma methods.

“It dramatically expands the diversity of leads,” AbCellera CEO Carl Hansen, Ph.D., said. “That means drug developers like Novartis can start with more, higher-quality antibodies, bringing a competitive advantage through shorter development timelines, higher potency leads and superior developability.”

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With AbCellera also framing the platform as a way to uncover rare antibodies and tackle tough target classes such as GPCRs and ion channels, it has managed to raise a $10 million series A round and land deals with a string of notable pharma and biotech companies in recent years.

AbCellera’s latest deal will see it apply the technology to up to 10 targets chosen by Novartis. In return, Novartis will make upfront payments, fund research and, depending on the success of the programs, hand over milestones and royalties. Neither party has disclosed the monetary value of the deal, but Hansen shared a qualitative assessment of its importance to AbCellera.

“This is a very significant deal for AbCellera,” the CEO said.

Hansen described the deal as an inflection point in AbCellera’s partnership business model as it gives Novartis “extended access” to its technology. The 2016 and 2017 agreements with Merck, GSK and Teva each covered a single target, as did a more recent tie-up with Denali Therapeutics. Pfizer signed up to work on targets, plural, but AbCellera’s statement didn’t disclose how many.

If Novartis takes up its option to work with AbCellera on all 10 targets, it will provide the company with an ongoing stream of work and money. AbCellera is expanding to service the contract and its other customers. Having moved into a new 22,000-square-foot lab last year, AbCellera has 72 full-time employees and plans to add close to 30 more by the end of the year.

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