AbCellera Biologics has received a four-year contract from the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) for the development of a rapid response platform against viral pandemics.
DARPA will provide funding of up to $30m over the contract period. AbCellera will lead a team of international virology, antibody discovery and gene therapy experts.
The project comes under the Pandemic Prevention Platform (P3) programme that aims to develop a pandemic response that could deliver field-ready medical countermeasures within 60 days of isolation of a viral pathogen.
The Vancouver-based company will develop new technologies for viral culture and production, rapid human antibody discovery, protein engineering and the delivery nucleic acid-encoded antibodies as prophylactic protection against viral infection.
The development and testing of the new end-to-end platform will include the discovery of thousands of human antibodies against various influenza strains and their validation using different high-priority viral pathogens.
AbCellera Biologics founding CEO Carl Hansen said: “Through the P3 programme, DARPA has set a bold vision to establish effective response capabilities for viral threats.
“The recent Ebola and Zika pandemics have made it clear that we are not equipped to deal with viral pandemics. The severity of seasonal flu this year is a sobering reminder that viral outbreaks present a serious risk to public health for which we must be better prepared.”
DARPA has also announced it is funding a consortia led by Medimmune, the Duke Human Vaccine Institute and Vanderbilt University Medical Center through the P3 programme.
DARPA P3 programme manager Matthew Hepburn said: “We need to be able to move at this speed considering how quickly viral outbreaks can get out of control.
“The technology needs to work on any viral disease, whether it’s one humans have faced before or not. If we’re successful, DARPA could take viral infectious disease outbreaks off the table.”