Absci, a Vancouver, Wash.-based company developing technologies to accelerate the process of drug discovery, announced today that it plans to go public via an IPO. The company’s platform is built to design and generate protein-based drug candidates and help screen them for optimal functioning.
The announcement follows a string of acquisitions and funding rounds for the company. This month the company acquired the synthetic biology company Totient, following its January acquisition of Denovium, a small deep learning startup capable of analyzing the function and behavior of proteins.
Earlier this year, Absci also landed an undisclosed investment from Merck’s Global Health Innovation Fund. Total funding by March of this year was $230 million, including a $125 million funding round this spring and a $65 million Series E round last fall.
Absci aims to circumvent current processes for developing protein-based drugs, which often require manufacture in mammalian cells, a cumbersome and difficult method. There is a need for easier solutions, as proteins form the basis for many key treatments, such as the antibody-based anti-cancer drug trastuzumab (brand name Herceptin).
Instead of mammalian cells, Absci manufactures proteins in E. Coli, a bacterium that is more efficient to use and easier to grow. “This feat was dismissed as impossible in the 1980s and 1990s,” said founder Sean McClain, in a letter in the IPO prospectus, but newer scientific advances opened the door.
The company uses in silico models to optimize protein designs, and synthetic biology platforms and custom-engineered E. coli strains to manufacture them and screen them for optimal activity. Their customer base is drug companies, “Our business model is to establish partnerships with biopharmaceutical companies and use our platform for rapid creation of next-generation biologic drug candidates and production cell lines,” according to the company’s filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
The company, founded in 2011, began commercial operations in 2018, and now has partnerships with Merck, Xyphos Biotechnology, Alpha Cancer Technologies, and several other drug companies. Eight of the programs are focused on developing cell lines, with one drug discovery program underway, a capability they developed in 2020 according to the filings.
2020 revenue was $4.7 million, up from $2 million for 2019. The company took in $1.1 million this year by March 31, primarily from one partner. Net losses were $49.4 million in 2020, compared to $23.8 million in 2019.
Phoenix Venture Partners is the company’s largest shareholder, with a 17.46% stake, followed by McClain, who owns 11.2% of the company. Phoenix Venture Partners led the company’s $5.1 million Series A funding in April 2016.
Absci has not determined the number of shares or their price range for the offering.
Three Washington state companies — Sana Biotechnology, Impel Neuropharma and Paymentus — have gone public with a traditional IPO this year. Earlier this month Seattle-based Nautilus Biotechnology, led by Isilon Systems co-founder Sujal Patel, went public via a SPAC merger. Mobile remittance company Remitly has also filed initial IPO paperwork.