Thank you, E. coli: Vancouver’s Absci uses bacteria to make ‘exciting’ drug discoveries

The primary thought that crossed Sean McClain’s thoughts was one thing like, “We did it.”

It was July twenty second on the Nasdaq headquarters in New York. McClain had gone out and in of conferences and interviews for hours, ready for the second. The 32-year-old entrepreneur, founder and CEO of Absci Corp., had simply seen his firm go public.

Fortuitously for McClain, he was between nationwide and worldwide media interviews when he noticed the primary commerce. A inventory dealer who was analyzing the gives and bids instructed him, his father, and his colleagues that Absci’s inventory value exceeded its preliminary value of $ 16 and was first offered for $ 21.

“I keep in mind hugging my father and getting a bug in my eye,” McClain mentioned.

The second supplied speedy affirmation and a literal award of the worth of the corporate McClain had constructed since he first got here up with Absci in faculty. The corporate now has 230 staff and is valued at round $ 2 billion.

“We did it,” he mentioned as he sat in his workplace within the new Absci headquarters on the Columbia Tech Middle on Monday, reflecting on the expertise. “It was an emotional day that lasted over 10 years.”


Escherichia coli (E. coli) micro organism usually dwell within the intestines of wholesome folks and animals and might generally trigger meals poisoning. In drug manufacturing, they can be utilized to make proteins and antibodies to struggle illness.

Above Absci

A biotech firm,

Headquarters: 18105 SE Mill Plain Blvd., Vancouver.

Based: 2011.

Founder: Sean McClain, 32.

Workers: About 230.

IPO: July twenty second

Estimated price: $ 2 billion.


On Tuesday, Absci will mark the opening of its new headquarters at 18105 SE Mill Plain Blvd. through which the corporate is situated, which has now reached a world stage with its IPO.

New area

Maybe the very first thing that catches the attention of a customer when getting into McClain’s workplace is the stuffed honey badger on a desk subsequent to his desk. Bought by his spouse from a Portland curio store, the honey badger represents the tenacity McClain introduced by means of the difficulties in founding Absci and his rise to public commerce.

“My spouse says it’s my energy animal,” he mentioned. “It may be bitten by a king cobra and handed out from the poison, then get up and begin consuming it. It has grit. It goes on.”

McClain got here up with the thought for Absci whereas finding out biochemistry and molecular biology on the College of Arizona. He mentioned he was “obsessed” with artificial biology and the thought of ​​having the ability to produce the primary antibodies utilizing E. coli cells, a course of that was not but in business use on the time.

He graduated a 12 months early with the thought in thoughts, and satisfied his then-fiancée to maneuver again into McClain’s mom’s house in Sherwood, Oregon, whereas he put his cash into the enterprise with an funding from his father.

Absci, based in Portland in 2011, determines the method that makes E. coli cells into the most effective drug like insulin, after which sells that system. With about 10 staff, Absci moved to Vancouver in 2016 with the assistance of the Columbia River Financial Growth Council, which helped apply for a $ 200,000 grant from Governor Jay Inslee’s Strategic Reserve Fund.

The rising firm got here into the highlight through the pandemic, as did many different biotech firms. Absci, which additionally helped drug firms develop vaccines for COVID-19 within the early days of the pandemic, noticed investments develop by $ 65 million and $ 125 million. At the start of the 12 months the corporate moved into its new headquarters.

McClain was standing within the small entry room of Abscis Laboratories when he placed on his white lab coat. Dotted lights shone on the polished aluminum that raised complete partitions and coated the ceiling above.

“It’s kind of like Star Trek,” he mentioned. “It is like strolling at hyper pace.”

The constructing’s design, which was completed by Bora Architects with assist from McClain, is a method of attracting high expertise within the bioengineering {industry}, he mentioned.

Within the laboratory, Keerthi Prasad Venkataramanan, senior scientist at Absci, was overseeing a collection of small, clear vessels containing a cloudy brown liquid. The fluid contained billions of E. coli cells that fermented; The corporate was engaged on a course of to develop a drug to deal with mind tumors.

In a single experiment, Absci can look at billions of organisms to see what makes the most effective, most subtle model of a drug. This course of is then offered to Absci’s prospects, together with Huge Pharma. 80 % of the corporate’s work is in oncology: the prevention and therapy of most cancers.

“We’re altering the world with one protein at a time,” mentioned Venkataramanan, who was drawn to Absci due to his industry- and world-changing alternatives.

Again in entrance of the laboratory, the workplace tradition exudes a Silicon Valley tech environment. A few staff’ canines run round whereas the employees journey their scooters by means of the aisles. There are ping pong tables, giant home windows opening onto an outside pickleball space, and a big gold gong hangs from a stand within the frequent space. It’s used to have fun one thing optimistic within the firm.

McClain values ​​this tradition very a lot, he mentioned, to draw high-profile expertise.

Intention larger

There’s a turning level within the crosshairs of Absci and McClain. It’s his final aim: to realize a connection between synthetic intelligence and biotechnology known as “full in silico”.

Absci would not simply use microorganisms to develop strategies of producing medicines. It additionally makes use of synthetic intelligence to document, analyze, and course of the info from all of its experiments.

“We wish to grow to be the ‘Google Index’ seek for drug discovery and bio-manufacturing,” mentioned McClain.

This may solely succeed if the corporate has sufficient information from its E. coli cells to foretell how they are going to behave through the manufacture of medication. With any such strong database, Absci staff can use algorithms and software program to construct their drug manufacturing processes as a substitute of counting on trial and error. It can pace up the corporate’s operations dramatically, McClain mentioned.

When may they attain this second? McClain mentioned he hoped it was “within the close to future”.

“It is as particular as I can get it,” he mentioned with fun.

McClain remembers sitting in a city automotive going to Instances Sq. on the day of the IPO. It was his first time there. The sight of the big display with the Absci brand was an emotional expertise.

When the market ended that day, McClain and his contingent tossed their hats within the air. On the identical time, his colleagues at Absci’s Vancouver headquarters have been doing the identical.

However it wasn’t all about partying proper now, McClain mentioned. It was the start of the subsequent 10 years that he’ll lead the corporate to larger enterprise, discoveries and maybe his “totally in silico” second.

“We’ve one thing thrilling right here,” he mentioned.