Absci Takes Its Generative AI Antibody Design Platform To Europe
Generative AI is disrupting Google’s
GOOG search engine monopoly along with many other areas of tech. But did you know that this technology could also become one of the main drivers of the bioeconomy by helping scientists design new enzymes, materials, and even drugs? Absci is putting generative AI to work by using it to develop new antibody-based therapeutics. The company has recently unveiled its zero-shot generative AI antibody design approach and is now expanding its operations to Europe to establish partnerships and deliver on the promise of this new technology.
Antibodies are one of the most active areas of therapeutics development, with the global antibody market valued at $210 billion in 2022 and projected to reach almost half a trillion by 2030. These biomolecules are naturally produced in our bodies to help us fight disease. But in many conditions, such as cancer or autoimmune disease, that response is broken, causing the immune system to either overreact or miss its targets. The neat thing about antibodies is that they can be biologically programmed to bind specific tissues or cell types, then manufactured in the lab, and administered as treatments to help guide the patient’s immune response. By designing antibodies to recognize unique molecular signatures, these treatments can be personalized to individual patients’ needs.
Antibody-based therapeutics have many potential uses, from treating autoimmune diseases like psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis, being used as immunosuppressive agents during organ transplantation, to destroying solid tumors. Although antibody-based therapies have been around since the 1980s, the number of drugs to receive approval is still relatively low. A lot of it has to do with the process of antibody drug development: the unpredictability of the traditional antibody discovery has limited their success in the clinic and is responsible for the long development times and sky-high price tags of personalized therapies.
This is why AI-aided antibody creation, as opposed to discovery, is a big deal. Absci is harnessing the power of AI to design custom antibodies in silico before testing them in a living system: “It can basically search through all the potential possibilities that are out there and then hone in on the exact attributes that you ultimately want,” explains CEO Sean McClain who is giving a keynote at the SynBioBeta Conference in May. “We see this really transforming the industry.”
The ability to create de novo therapeutic antibodies with specified properties could potentially reduce the time it takes to get new drug targets into the clinic from as much as six years down to just 18-24 months. This is a major industry step change, which could help bring life-saving medicines to patients much faster and is especially critical in oncology where patients often do not have the time to wait:
“Our focus is to get the best antibody into development because there are a lot of patients who cannot wait,” says Dr. Andreas Busch, Absci’s Chief Innovation Officer responsible for leading R&D, technical operations, and driving Absci’s partner programs. “We expect that we can get from target to a candidate within 8 to 12 weeks versus traditional approaches of about two years. Gaining those two years at the research phase is an incredible benefit.”
Tapping into Europe’s Talent Pool
Absci has been building its antibody business since 2011. The company is headquartered in Vancouver, WA, and has an AI Research Lab in New York City, which is led by Absci’s Chief AI Officer Joshua Meier who came to the company from Meta in 2021. To add to the two U.S.-based sites, Absci has announced today the opening of a new Innovation Center in Zug, Switzerland. The move into the European market is not surprising: Switzerland has some of the highest concentration of biotech and pharma talent, and Absci is looking to capitalize on that by creating strategic partnerships and driving the development of new therapies from target to market.
Absci’s Chief Innovation Officer Andreas Busch is spearheading this next phase of its growth. Busch is a drug development veteran who shepherded 10 medicines from idea through FDA approval at Bayer, Sanofi, and Shire. He was initially attracted to Absci because he served on its board. With decades of experience in bringing drugs to market, he recognized that Absci had a one-of-a-kind combination of passion, cutting-edge technology, and high-quality data to build the generative AI antibody development platform: “My entire career I was focused on delivering drugs to patients,” says Busch. “And I came to Absci because I was so excited about the potential of that platform. It can really disrupt the industry.”
He is also bringing some new talent to the leadership team, including Christine Lemke, who will be responsible for Portfolio & Growth Strategy, and Christian Stegmann, Senior VP of Drug Creation. The two senior executives will be leading Absci’s drug creation team in Europe. Lemke, who is an expert at leading transformative strategic projects at global biopharmaceutical companies, will be developing Absci’s R&D strategy to bring life-changing medicines to patients:
“Based on my experience in the industry, Absci presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to transform the drug creation process,” said Lemke said in a press release. “It’s a rare opportunity to work with a team of this caliber, and I’m optimistic we can create better biologics for patients faster.” Stegmann seconded that sentiment: “Generative AI has the potential to power the next era of drug creation, and Absci is leading the way in what’s possible,” he said.
Building lasting impact
Absci is no stranger to building strong partnerships and collaborations. They have been working with dozens of top antibody therapeutics makers in the world and developing their own pipeline alongside. Last year the company signed a $610 million deal with Merck and recently formalized a partnership with St. John’s Cancer Institute to enhance cancer treatments.
Thanks to their unique screening platform that has the capacity to test nearly 3 million antibodies every week, they have collected massive amounts of antibody screening data over the years. That rich data feeds the AI-powered computational platform which allows them to analyze a billion molecules per week and create designs that have a much higher chance of success in the clinic:
“Using our data and generative AI, you can now develop the right antibody the first time,” says McClain. “We see this transforming the industry where we become the partner of choice for large pharma and biotech companies because we’re able to show that we with these models, we’re able to get higher success rates throughout the clinic and dramatically decreased the amount of time that it takes to get these new therapies to the patients.”
The expansion into the European pharmaceutical market is adding momentum to Absci’s ambitions to become “the Google of synthetic biology”. The company is ready to harness the power of AI and synthetic biology to expand the therapeutic potential of proteins to bring innovation to the biopharma industry.
Thank you to Katia Tarasava for additional research and reporting on this article. I’m the founder of SynBioBeta and some of the companies I write about, such as Absci Corporation, are sponsors of the SynBioBeta conference and weekly digest.