What does a partnership between the US pharmaceutical industry and BC biotech mean?

A COVID-19 treatment developed in partnership between Vancouver biotech AbCellera Biologics Inc. (Nasdaq: ABCL) and U.S. pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Co. (NYSE: LLY) has propelled Colombia’s life sciences sector Briton in the spotlight for much of the past year.

AbCellera went public in December 2020 – achieving unicorn status after its blockbuster IPO raised US$555 million – and soon after unveiled plans to build specialty offices across Vancouver as She was looking to hire 1,000 workers over the next seven years.

Since then, other US medical giants have taken an increased interest in the West Coast biotech scene, bolstering the potential to raise the profile of made-in-BC innovations.

“It’s opened a lot of doors,” Cytiva vice-president Olivier Loeillot said of the impact his company’s acquisition of British Columbia biotech company Vanrx is having on it.

Vanrx is best known for developing robotic machines that can safely fill vials, syringes, and cartridges with liquid medications.

It was Cytiva’s first acquisition after US medical giant Danaher Corp. (NYSE: DHR) took over GE Life Sciences in 2020 in a $21.4 billion deal. GE Life Sciences was later renamed Cytiva.

Loeillot said that because Cytiva is a supplier to big pharma and small biotech, the acquisition has “gave more credibility to Vanrx because some of our customers have known us for a long, long time.”

The Vancouver company’s machines use hydrogen peroxide vapor, robotic components and machine vision cameras to autonomously inject liquid medication into items such as enclosed vials in a clean environment to ensure that all components remain sterile.

Customers use the machines for everything from animal tranquilizers and gene therapies to personalized drugs and messenger RNA (mRNA) drugs.

Co-founder and former CEO Chris Procyshyn once compared old-school industry practices to how The Simpsons’ Homer performs his duties at the nuclear power plant.

“It’s kind of the status quo for the industry, people in awkward angles and rubber gloves trying to accomplish this,” he told BIV after last year’s acquisition.

Instead, he said Vanrx’s robotic process can be summed up as: “Open them, fill them, close them and complete them, all without the direct use of humans in the process. “

Procyshyn has since left Vanrx, and a new leader is expected to be announced this month.

And after some delays, Loeillot said Cytiva now plans to open Vanrx’s new 113,000 square foot facility in the second quarter of 2022.

“We are very excited about this because, in addition to being a brand new facility, it will also allow us to have access to much more capacity and to be able to certainly [meet] this incredible demand,” he said, adding that the company has increased its workforce to 200 from around 100 since the acquisition last year.

Further down the road, another Cytiva acquisition in 2021 will open a new facility in Metro Vancouver.

Plans for Precision NanoSystems Inc.’s (PNI) new $50 million biofabrication facility at Vancouver’s False Creek Flats are underway after the federal government revealed last February that it was committing $25 million to the factory as part of a bid to boost the country’s national vaccine manufacturing capacity.

PNI is best known for producing technology to develop and manufacture genetic drugs that deliver RNA or DNA directly into cells to treat disease at its molecular root cause.

PNI specializes in self-amplified RNA vaccines, which have the potential to create more potent vaccines because they amplify the signal, allowing PNI to manufacture more doses for less volume.

Moderna Inc. (NYSE:MRNA) and Pfizer Inc. (NYSE:PFE) provided the bulk of Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine supply with their own messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines. The PNI facility would be able to produce up to 240 million per year of its own doses of self-amplified RNA vaccine – if approved – compared to two million doses of mRNA.

After Cytiva bought PNI last spring, the company insisted it would always meet its obligations to Ottawa.

“The [were] obligations within the framework of this award and this partnership with the Canadian government. So we maintain those bonds, and now we’ve been able to attract a fantastic partner…to be a part of that as well,” PNI co-founder James Taylor said at the time.

“[The acquisition] really allows us to bring together extremely complementary products and services to better serve our drug development partners and customers, expand our global reach, grow here in Vancouver, and enable more drugs to be developed faster.

His description of the acquisition as an accelerator of biotech ambitions already seems to be confirmed.

Taylor originally estimated the biofabrication plant would be complete by March 2023. That timeline has since been moved to the fourth quarter of 2022.

Burnaby-based Symvivo Corp. is also attracting interest from US giants for its advances in COVID-19 vaccines.

While Canadians are familiar with vaccines delivered through needles that often require cold temperatures to remain stable, BC biotech is pursuing the use of live bacteria as a gene delivery platform. Symvivo takes the healthy probiotic bacteria that all humans have had in their bodies since childhood and modifies them to deliver genetic material to the body.

This technique has spawned separate collaborations with Merck and Co. Inc. (NYSE: MRK) and Janssen, the pharmaceutical arm of Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ).

The bacteria in Symvivo would be grown to a certain density, freeze-dried and then formulated into capsules that people can swallow at home.

As Symvivo works on a vaccine that delivers a gene that induces an immune response to the virus that causes COVID-19, founder and CEO Alexander Graves said the company’s platform also works in a turnkey fashion and can be applied. to other viruses.

“Vancouver, for us, is a location that we’re going to capitalize on,” Loeillot said of Cytiva’s plans for Vanrx. “We have almost doubled in size in one year. I think it’s fair to say it will double again, probably in the next three to five years.

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