From a pair of Air Jordans to a $200M-plus IPO, Carl Hansen is crafting an overnight R&D fortune fueled by Covid-19

Back in the summer of 2019, Carl Hansen left his post as a professor at the University of British Columbia to go full time as the CEO at a low-profile antibody shop he had founded called AbCellera.

As biotech CEOs go, even after a fundraise Hansen wasn’t paid a whole heck of a lot. He ended up earning right at $250,000 for the year. His compensation package included a loan — which he later paid back — and a pair of Air Jordan tennis shoes. His newly-hired CFO, Andrew Booth, got a sweeter pay packet than that — which included his own pair of Air Jordans.

As a company they collected more than $11 million in research fees last year, spent about $16 million on operations — mostly R&D, executing notable but small-dollar upfront collaborations with Gilead, Novartis and Denali that year — and had a minuscule $4 million loss for the year.

None of that would register much in the booming biotech world.

Then the pandemic hit in March. And Hansen’s fortunes — along with the company he had founded — changed dramatically overnight.

On Friday, the biotech filed their S-1, widely expected as Facebook and PayPal billionaire Peter Thiel — who has a longstanding side interest in biotech — was flagged as a new board member of a company in which he currently owns 3% of the stock. Hansen and Bloom penciled in $200 million for the raise on a once-obscure biotech that has been thrust into the forefront of the fight against Covid-19.

And according to the SEC filing, Hansen, who settled for a relatively modest salary, currently owns 26% of it all.

This year their small-money deal days have quickly faded into the past. After scooping up $125 million in cash support from the Canadian government to help propel its Covid-19 work, the company skipped straight ahead to a $105 million B round. Head count swelled from a little more than 100 to 174 in the first 9 months of the year.

The S-1 also details, for the first time, the collaboration with Eli Lilly that would put them in the spotlight.

Lilly paid an economical $25 million cash upfront to get the alliance started and so far the pharma giant has paid $8 million of the $29 million in milestones on the table. Royalties are split between the  low- to mid-teens for aggregate sales below $125 million and mid-teens to mid-twenties on aggregate sales above $125 million.

From discovery to clinic to an EUA, AbCellera was able to work up a slate of more than 500 antibodies and let Eli Lilly pick one — LY-CoV555, now bamlanivimab — for development, which they moved into the clinic and then swiftly on to the FDA. All that happened in a matter of months.

For AbCellera, it was an opportunity to prove that their AI foundation could effectively shave time out of an all-hands-on-deck pandemic program, and likely for others too.

The drug, though, is limited by the mixed data that Lilly took to the FDA. The low dose chosen for approval failed the primary endpoint on viral load, while the first cut of the clinical data demonstrated its ability to reduce hospitalizations and ER visits among patients at high risk of becoming infected. Enrollment in a separate study for hospitalized patients was halted for lack of benefit. But that was good enough for an EUA, as regulators rushed to add better therapies than the convalescent plasma OK that still attracts criticism or hydroxy, where the EUA was later yanked after repeated clinical failures.

However the final stock price shakes out for AbCellera, Hansen’s fortunes are about to shift dramatically in a world that has showered large windfalls on key Covid-19 players.

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