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Vancouver antibody developer AbCellera Biologics Inc. has filed to go public on the Nasdaq in what could be one of the largest initial public offerings by a Canadian biotechnology company.

AbCellera said it hopes to raise US$200-million in its registration statement, posted on the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission website late Friday afternoon. Investment banks Credit Suisse, Stifel Nicolaus, Berenberg Capital Markets, SVB Leerink and Canada’s BMO Capital Markets are underwriting the deal.

The filing comes five months after IPOs by cancer drug developers Repare Therapeutics Inc. and Fusion Pharmaceuticals Inc. raised US$253-million and US$213-million, respectively – the two biggest ever for Canadian biotech firms.

It follows a flurry of announcements by AbCellera this week, including the appointments of Silicon Valley billionaire venture capitalist Peter Thiel and former RBC Global Asset Management chief executive officer John Montalbano to its board, as well as its US$90-million purchase of a biotechnology company that uses genetically engineered mice to help discover antibodies.

This has been one of the strongest years ever for the Canadian and global biotechnology sector, driven in part by demand for COVID-19 treatments. AbCellera is one of the most prominent early-stage companies in that race, partnering with drug giant Eli Lilly to produce a drug for coronavirus patients called bamlanivimab, which was authorized this month for emergency use on patients by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and, on Friday, by Health Canada.

The Globe and Mail first reported in July that AbCellera was considering an IPO this fall.

AbCellera was spun out in 2012 from the University of British Columbia’s interdisciplinary Michael Smith Laboratories, where CEO Carl Hansen ran the bioengineering group.

Using technology developed at the lab, AbCellera speeds up the process of isolating and identifying antibodies created by humans to fight infections. Its “antibody discovery engine” process involves passing blood samples from a person who has developed an immunity to a disease through a credit-card-sized “microfluidic” device with hundreds of thousands of tiny chambers. With the help of artificial intelligence, it tests antibodies produced by cells in each chamber simultaneously, homing in on those that have the potential to be developed into drugs.

The system unearths antibody-based drugs more quickly, cheaply and effectively than conventional methods. For example, through its partnership with Eli Lilly, within three days of receiving a blood sample from a recovered COVID-19 patient this spring, AbCellera isolated hundreds of antibody candidates for a drug. Within 90 days, bamlanivimab was in clinical trials.

Observers in the biotechnology world are particularly excited about AbCellera because it is not hanging its fortunes on a single drug but rather a platform that can continuously spin out promising treatments. The 174-person company has partnered with drug makers on 94 drug discovery programs, signing 71 deals that see it earn research fees, milestone payments and royalties as molecules advance from the lab to the market.

The filing reveals that AbCellera has more than doubled revenues annually, on average, since 2014, increasing them from US$11.6-million in 2019 to US$25.2-million in the first nine months of this year for a US$1.9-million profit. The filing also reveals that Dr. Hansen owns just over 26 per cent of the company.

AbCellera secured $175.6-million in development funds from the Canadian government plus US$105-million in venture capital earlier this year.

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