Vancouver’s AbCellera taps billionaire investor Peter Thiel for its board

Novel coronavirus | Photo: Vancouver Coastal Health

What happened: AbCellera appoints investor Peter Thiel to board of directors

Why it matters: Thiel has previous experience taking a tech company public

A B.C. biotech garnering attention for its work on a COVID-19 therapy is tapping a high-profile figure from Silicon Valley to help guide the company to bigger fortunes.

Vancouver-based AbCellera Biologics Inc. revealed Thursday (November 19) that billionaire Peter Thiel, the co-founder and former CEO of PayPal Holdings Inc., has joined its board.

The move appears to portend to the company’s ambitions for an initial public offering with AbCellera highlighting in its announcement that Thiel successfully took PayPal public before its US$1.5 billion sale to eBay Inc. (Nasdaq:EBAY) in 2002.

Thiel was also the first outside investor in Facebook Inc. (Nasdaq:FB) and sits on the social media giant’s board of directors.

AbCellera partnered up with American pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Co. (NYSE:LLY) earlier this year to develop antibody therapeutics to fight COVID-19.

The U.S. government inked a deal with Lilly last month, paying US$375 million for 300,000 vials of the bamlanivimab (LY-CoV555) therapeutic.

This came after Ottawa earmarked $175 million in May for the biotech to pursue the development, manufacturing and distribution of therapeutic antibodies.

Since then, Lilly has been using AbCellera’s platform to zero in on antibodies generated in a natural immune response to the novel coronavirus.

Bamlanivimab wouldn’t be administered to the general population, but to those already infected with COVID-19 and require treatment.

Lilly released proof-of-concept data in September showing reduced hospitalization rates for patients treated with the antibody.

AbCellera was founded in 2012 with an initial staff of five and has since grown its headcount to 190 people.

“It was based on a technology that was developed at UBC and we had the mission to transform the way new medicines are discovered and ultimately to bring drugs to patients faster,” co-founder and chief operating officer Véronique Lecault said upon accepting an award earlier this month from the B.C. Tech Association.

Thiel famously funded Terry [Hulk Hogan] Bollea's legal campaign against Gawker Media LLC after the blog released clips of a sex tape featuring the former pro-wrestler.

The lawsuit resulted in Gawker filing for bankruptcy after it was ordered to pay $130 million in damages.

“Peter has been a valued AbCellera investor and brings deep experience in scaling global technology companies,” said CEO Carl Hansen said in a statement.