Starting line: focus on Canadian start-ups

DDW Editor Lu Rahman selects three Canadian start-ups worth watching: AbCellera Biologics, BlueRock Therapeutics and Deep Genomics.

AbCellera Biologics

AbCellera Biologics was founded in 2012 as a spin out from the University of British Colombia. The company searches, decodes, and analyses natural immune systems to find antibodies that can be developed into drugs to prevent and treat disease. AbCellera’s AI-powered drug discovery platform integrates technologies from engineering, microfluidics, single-cell analysis, high-throughput genomics, machine learning, and hyper-scale data science.

The company partners with drug developers of all sizes, from large pharmaceutical to small biotechnology companies, helping them to move quickly, reduce costs, and tackle the tough drug development problems.

Earlier this year the company announced that a second antibody from its collaboration with Eli Lilly and Company, LY-CoV1404, has entered clinical trials in patients with mild-to-moderate Covid-19. Lilly has expanded its ongoing BLAZE-4 trials to evaluate LY-CoV1404 alone and together with other monoclonal antibodies.

Supporting this clinical study, AbCellera released preclinical data showing LY-CoV1404 binds to a rarely mutated region of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein and neutralises variants including those first identified in the UK (B.1.1.7), South Africa (B.1.351) and Brazil (P.1). LY-CoV1404 is highly potent, which could have implications for reducing the amount of antibody necessary for clinical dosing, and potentially enabling a subcutaneous route of administration for either treatment or prophylaxis of Covid-19.

The company also recently entered into a multi-target discovery collaboration with Empirico. Empirico will use its Precision Insights Platform, a human genetics-focused discovery platform, to select up to five therapeutic targets. AbCellera will use its AI-powered antibody discovery technology to search and analyse natural immune responses to identify antibodies with the desired therapeutic properties against the selected targets.

BlueRock Therapeutics

According to BlueRock Therapeutics, “the convergence of cell biology and genetic engineering is creating fundamental new ways to impact disease.”

The company was founded in 2016. Its novel cell+gene platform has been created to develop, manufacture, and deliver a new generation of authentic and engineered cell therapies across three therapeutic areas: neurology, cardiology, and immunology.

The company says it can engineer healthy donor cells to create a “truly universal source for cell therapy.” These universal pluripotent stem cells (PSCs) form the basis of its platform, which it believes has two advantages over others. The first is that, using its proprietary bioprocessing and manufacturing techniques, it can create stable master cell banks capable of unlimited expansion and differentiation into any cell type in the body.S econdly, it can then direct the differentiation of these universal cells into almost any cell type in the human body, recapitulating natural developmental processes.

BlueRock Therapeutics, FUJIFILM Cellular Dynamics, and Opsis Therapeutics recently entered into a research and development (R&D) alliance. The companies will combine their expertise to discover and develop off-the-shelf iPS cell therapies for ocular diseases.

Deep Genomics

According to Toronoto-based Deep Genomics, “the future of drug development will rely on artificial intelligence, because biology is too complex for humans to understand.”

It notes that RNA as a “therapeutic modality has arrived on a global scale with new medicines approved for rare disease and as vaccines.” Finding these therapies involves mining RNA biology data. As this process can be slow and costly, the company’s AI Workbench has been designed to “untangle the complexity in RNA biology, identifies novel targets, and evaluates thousands of possibilities to identify the best therapeutic candidates.”

In 2019, this AI therapeutics company, announced that its artificial intelligence-based drug discovery platform had identified a novel treatment target and corresponding drug candidate for Wilson disease, a rare, serious, and potentially life-threatening genetic disorder.

Since then the company has collaborated with BioMarin Pharmaceutical to identify oligonucleotide drug candidates in four rare disease indications with high unmet need.

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