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Dec 11, 2020

AbCellera, Thiel-backed developer of COVID-19 treatment, surges in debut

Biotech company AbCellera stock triples in Nasdaq debut

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AbCellera Biologics Inc., which is developing an antibody treatment for COVID-19 with Eli Lilly & Co., nearly tripled in the first day of trading after its initial public offering.

Shares of the Vancouver-based company surged to US$58.90 after being priced at US$20 in the offering. The offering raised US$483 million before commissions and expenses, making it the biggest Canadian pharmaceuticals IPO on record and the second-largest Canadian initial offering announced this year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

AbCellera is riding a wave of interest in companies whose products may be used to combat the pandemic. The firm is co-developing a monoclonal antibody treatment that U.S. regulators authorized last month as a therapy for people with mild-to-moderate COVID-19 symptoms.

Lilly anticipates manufacturing 1 million doses of the treatment, known as bamlanivimab, before the end of the year and has reached a deal with the U.S. government for 300,000 doses. AbCellera is entitled to receive a specified percentage of proceeds that Lilly receives from these sales.

The firm attracted the attention of Peter Thiel, the billionaire venture capitalist who co-founded PayPal Holdings Inc. and is now chairman of Palantir Technologies Inc. and a Facebook Inc. board member. Thiel was named to AbCellera’s board last month and acquired a small stake earlier in the year, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

In its first day of trading on Friday, the shares rose as high as US$71.91. Their closing price gave the company a market value of about US$15.7 billion.

AbCellera uses what it calls “lab-on-a-chip” technology to help biopharmaceutical companies identify new drug candidates. Using a blood sample from one of the first patients in the U.S. to recover from COVID-19, AbCellera screened more than 500 antibodies before zeroing in on one that Lilly used to develop the treatment in less than three months.

AbCellera has a portfolio with hundreds of programs and posted net income of US$1.9 million on revenue of US$25 million in the nine months ended Sept. 30, according to its IPO filing.

AbCellera had initially sought to sell 23 million shares at US$14 to US$17 apiece, but later boosted the price range to US$17 to US$18 before ultimately offering 24.2 million shares at US$20 each.

The offering was led by Credit Suisse Group AG, Stifel, Berenberg, SVB Leerink, BMO Capital Markets.

--With assistance from Riley Griffin.

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