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AbCellera, Niaid Vaccine Research Center, and Ichor Medical Systems have formed a partnership to develop an end-to-end platform capable of developing field-ready, nucleic acid-based countermeasures against a pandemic strain of influenza.
On May 9, 2019, AbCellera announced the addition of researchers from the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, and biotech company Ichor Medical Systems (Ichor) to its Pandemic Prevention Platform (P3) team. As part of the four-year, $30-million project, NIAID Vaccine Research Center and Ichor will provide expertise in virology, vaccinology, nucleic-acid antibody vectorization, and delivery to supplement AbCellera’s capabilities. The team will build an end-to-end platform capable of developing field-ready medical countermeasures within 60 days of a viral outbreak.
AbCellera’s platform includes a microfluidic technology that allows for deep mining of natural immune responses, yielding large and diverse panels of antibodies, according to the company. AbCellera’s technology has increased throughput and supports a variety of miniaturized assays to directly select antibodies produced by single cells from any species, including humans. In the P3 project, these capabilities will be used to screen millions of immune cells from human patients previously exposed to infectious pathogens and isolate panels of potent neutralizing antibodies as candidate therapeutics for pandemic response.
AbCellera reports that it assembled the consortium in response to a high-priority initiative from the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to enable rapid response to pandemic viral outbreaks. In late 2018 as part of a first simulated pandemic exercise, AbCellera performed rapid antibody discovery from camelids infected with Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV), which has high pandemic potential, according to AbCellera. This effort, in collaboration with Colorado State University, identified thousands of MERS-CoV binding antibodies in a single afternoon. The first 355 unique sequences, including many antibodies that are potent virus neutralizers, were obtained in three days and 19 hours.
Now, one year into this four-year project, AbCellera, the NIAID Vaccine Research Center, and Ichor will be testing how quickly they can move from discovering broadly-neutralizing antibodies against influenza virus to delivering a nucleic acid-based countermeasure that can protect against infection. In this expanded project, the team will discover potent antibody neutralizers of pandemic influenza, incorporate these sequences into nucleic acid-based therapeutics, use Ichor’s TriGrid electroporation technology to deliver the nucleic acids into animals, and perform in-vivo tests to demonstrate the therapeutics’ ability to act as a prophylactic against infection. This represents a paradigm shift in antibody treatments, since delivering nucleic acids that code for a neutralizing antibody directly to the patient can bypass the time-consuming manufacturing process conventionally required for therapeutic antibodies, according to AbCellera. Nucleic acid-based treatments have the potential to be deployed more rapidly than conventional countermeasures in response to an emerging pandemic.
“We are proud of the people on our phenomenal AbCellera team, who approached this simulation with the urgency of a real pandemic outbreak, working in shifts around the clock to meet the goals set out by this challenge,” said Ester Falconer, P3 project lead and group leader at AbCellera, in a company press release. “By using AbCellera’s rapid antibody discovery technology, we were able to complete the screening portion in just six hours and execute every step seamlessly to achieve the end goal ahead of schedule. To the best of our knowledge, this is unprecedented speed for an antibody campaign, and we’re optimistic that this approach could clear a major bottleneck in halting real pandemic outbreaks.”
“AbCellera’s team has made tremendous strides towards building the first technology platform capable of rapid pandemic response. DARPA’s vision of deploying anti-viral countermeasures in 60 days, which was widely perceived as science fiction, is fast becoming a reality,” said Carl Hansen, CEO of AbCellera, in the release. “We are excited to pressure-test our platform in a simulated flu pandemic and are confident the combined expertise and technology of the NIAID Vaccine Research Center, Ichor, and AbCellera is up to the task. In addition to setting new speed and performance records for human antibody discovery, this exercise has the potential to yield highly-potent human antibodies for development as therapeutics and prophylactics.”