Versant biotechs hand AbCellera antibody discovery wish list as part of multiyear deal with the VC shop

Versant Ventures has enlisted AbCellera as its antibody discovery house band. Off the back of its key role in the development of Eli Lilly’s COVID-19 antibody, AbCellera is set to provide Versant with candidates for multiple targets selected by the VC shop’s portfolio of biotechs.

AbCellera has already supported three stealth-stage Versant immunology and oncology biotechs under other multi-target deals, giving the investor a front-row look at its ability to optimize antibody therapies. The new, multiyear agreement builds on the earlier deals to put AbCellera at the heart of Versant’s push to support antibody development, as Markus Enzelberger, Ph.D., a partner at the VC firm, explained. 

“In recent years we have made a series of investments into the next generation of therapeutic antibodies,” Enzelberger said in a statement. “We are seeing a wave of innovation in the antibody space that is allowing us to add novel functionalities to these molecules. Our partnership with AbCellera will further enable our portfolio companies to pursue these important biologic medicines.”

Under the terms of the new deal, Versant’s portfolio of biologics-focused biotechs has selected multiple targets for AbCellera to go after. The biotechs will have rights to develop and commercialize antibodies discovered through the pact. In return, AbCellera, a 2020 Fierce 15 winner, will receive research payments and put itself in line to pocket clinical and commercial milestones, plus royalties. 

The deal increases AbCellera’s exposure to biotech. Best known for its ties to Big Pharma companies, the antibody specialist has also forged partnerships with small biotechs, swelling its list of collaborators to 36 at the last public count. The 36 partners cover 158 active or completed discovery programs.

Six molecules have made it to the clinic, most notably Lilly’s emergency-authorized anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies bamlanivimab and bebtelovimab. NovaRock Biotherapeutics also has AbCellera-partnered programs in the clinic.