Vancouver’s medical biotech companies — Absci, CytoDyn and a new player, Capsigen — are on the leading edge of a global revolution aimed at developing new technologies to produce medicines and tools for gene therapy.
Biotech, or life sciences companies, are a relatively new industry, but they already represent a $30 billion business in Washington.
In 2021 alone, the industry reported record investments, with companies raising almost $5 billion — including initial stock offerings for six life science companies, according to a news release from Life Science Washington.
Also, from 2015-2019, the industry experienced 23.5 percent job growth, outpacing both Washington private-sector job growth and life science job growth nationally, according to the news release.
Absci held its IPO in July of last year and then moved into a new headquarters, and it was valued at about $2 billion. Its work includes engineering E. coli microorganisms to produce proteins to create drugs, including insulin. Absci claims it can lower the cost of goods by 75 percent and allow pharmaceutical companies to get drugs to market one to two years earlier.
“I think the county’s biotech future is bright, and we at Absci look forward to helping establish this region as a thriving biotech hub in the years to come,” said Sean McClain, founder and CEO at Absci.
“Vancouver, Clark County, and Washington broadly have been really supportive of Absci’s growth,” McClain said. “There are leaders here who are committed to helping emerging biotech companies develop, grow the workforce, expand the area’s technology footprint, and ultimately improve lives for patients with health care innovations.”
CytoDyn, a Vancouver biotech company, is creating treatments for diseases using an antibody called Leronlimab. The company was founded in 2002, and it’s now searching for a new CEO a year after the company was sued and a board takeover attempt by shareholder activists failed.
Still, the company remains bullish over the future of Leronlimab.
“Our target, the CCR5 receptor, has been implicated in multiple disease processes from HIV, GVHD, NASH, stroke recovery, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, to metastatic cancer. Leronlimab, our CCR5 antagonist, is a once a week, subcutaneous injection. One molecule with multiple opportunities,” CytoDyn’s website states.
Capsigen, which incorporated last year, is engineering a virus component called an AAV capsid, which acts as a vehicle to deliver a therapeutic gene to specific cells to cure certain diseases.
“It’s a one-time treatment,” Capsigen co-founder Dr. Hiroyuki Nakai said. That’s compared to current treatments for some diseases that require medication for the remainder of the patient’s life.
The company has 12 employees and plans to double that by year’s end.
Vancouver-based biotech companies
18105 S.E. Mill Plain Blvd., Vancouver
Engineers microorganisms called E. coli to produce proteins for pharmaceutical companies that use them to efficiently manufacture drugs, including insulin.
1111 Main St. Ste. 660, Vancouver
Creating treatments for diseases using an antibody called Leronlimab.
1010 Washington St., Vancouver
Engineers AAV capsids to deliver therapeutic genes to targeted tissues.