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Feb. 6, 2023

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AbSci purchases San Diego artificial intelligence startup Denovium

Growing company to relocate to Columbia Tech Center in May

By , Columbian Innovation Editor

Vancouver-based biotech company AbSci announced Tuesday that it purchased a deep-learning artificial intelligence startup called Denovium, based in San Diego.

The acquisition will help AbSci work toward its “grand vision,” said founder and CEO Sean McClain: using mass data and artificial intelligence, or AI, to create new molecules with a click of a button without the lengthy process of trial testing. It will help the company create new disease-fighting drugs much faster.

“It takes this linear process from drug discovery to manufacturing, which can take years. We’re shortening it down to weeks,” McClain said. “We can screen millions and billions of different cells with different conditions and fish out ‘the needle in the haystack’ that gives the functionality of the molecule you’re looking for.

“It would be a complete paradigm shift,” McClain said.

The ability to create new drug molecules with a computer model in a matter of seconds is a goal of AbSci’s that’s a few years away, McClain said.

Denovium has six remote-working employees who will join AbSci, said Imad Ajjawi, co-founder of Denovium. Founded in 2018, Denovium developed a deep-learning model called Denovium Engine that understands proteins similar to AbSci’s. It was trained on 100 million proteins and across over 700,000 descriptive parameters.

“If we have a new disease, a new target, we can build a molecule, that will bind to receptors, in a matter of seconds,” McClain said. “We can modify how tight it binds to the receptor and the half-life of the molecule. We can engineer that with deep-learning algorithms and feed it with data over time.”

AbSci did not disclose the terms of the acquisition.

McClain founded AbSci in 2011 in Portland and moved to Vancouver after Gov. Jay Inslee gave the company $200,000 from his Strategic Reserve Fund in 2016.

The company uses E. Coli microorganisms to “print” proteins for pharmaceutical companies. The proteins are used by pharmaceutical companies to manufacture drugs, including insulin. AbSci can lower the cost of goods by 75 percent and allow drugs to reach their markets one to two years earlier.

In October, AbSci raised $65 million in investor funding, allowing the company to relocate from its spot in The Hudson building in downtown Vancouver to a new, much larger location at the Columbia Tech Center in east Vancouver. The relocation is set for May, and it will allow the company to quadruple capacity, McClain told The Columbian.