AbSci’s Change in Strategy Scuttles Vancouver’s Plans for a Biotech Hub

AbSci’s Change in Strategy Scuttles Vancouver’s Plans for A Biotech Hub August 12, 2016
By Mark Terry, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff

Vancouver, Washington-based AbSci’s change of plans has scuttled the Port of Vancouver’s plans to turn the former Red Lion Hotel into a biotech startup space.

In November 2015, AbSci announced that it was leasing 6,200 square feet of space in the location, would provide impetus for the Port of Vancouver, backed by city, state and local governments, to create a biotech incubator space. “This is a very coveted industry sector,” Todd Coleman, the port’s chief executive officer, said in a statement at the time. “We are going to rejuvenate and revitalize this facility, and this is one of the first steps.”

AbSci was the key to that plan. At that time it had 10 employees, but was expecting to grow to 20 this year and up to 50 by 2020. Prior to moving to Vancouver, it had been based in Portland, Oregon, where it couldn’t find appropriate facilities.

AbSci develops full-length antibodies in the bacteria E. coli using its SoluPro technology platform. According to the company’s website, the system “eliminates the formulation of inclusion bodies in the production process, allowing high quality, soluble versions of these highly valued proteins and antibodies to be produced in quantity.”

The Port of Vancouver has now given up on its plans to turn the hotel into a laboratory building. Abbi Russell, a spokeswoman for the Port of Vancouver, told Oregon Public Radio that AbSci had grown faster than projections and the space at the hotel no longer worked for it.

The port had dropped $46,000 into converting rooms into laboratory space, which AbSci will repay. AbSci apparently still wants to move to Vancouver.

In April of this year, AbSci pulled in $5.1 million in Series A financing led by Phoenix Venture Partners (PVP). The money will be used to push commercialization of its SoluPro platform to be used in biopharmaceutical manufacturing.

“AbSci is pleased to welcome PVP to the growing AbSci team,” said Sean McClain, founder and chief executive officer of AbSci, in a statement. “PVP’s team is comprised of successful entrepreneurs, whose values, strategic expertise, and alignment with our business model make them an ideal fit to compliment our efforts.”

In May, the company appointed V. Bryan Lawlis to the company’s board of directors. Lawlis currently serves on the board of BioMarin Pharmaceutical , Coherus BioSciences and Geron .

“Dr. Lawlis brings over 35 years of experience in the biotech industry, where he has been a successful CEO, entrepreneur, scientist, and pioneer in the fields of biopharmaceutical process development and manufacturing,” said McClain in a statement at the time. “We are honored to welcome Dr. Lawlis to our Board of Directors and we look forward to his input and guidance as we commercialize AbSci’s SoluPro technology.”

It appears that with the termination of the lease, the Port of Vancouver has taken a pivot on the hotel location. “We’re pursuing an aggressive schedule for redevelopment at Terminal 1, which includes eventual demolition of portions of the Red Lion,” said Julianna Marler, the interim port chief executive officer, in a statement. Demolition is expected to start as early as late 2017.

“We’re encouraged by AbSci’s strong growth and commitment to relocating to Vancouver, even if it’s not at (the Port of Vancouver),” said Mike Bomar, president of the Columbia River Economic Development Council, in a statement. “Given the nature of AbSci’s technology and their ability to be an influential player in the biotech sector, we believe that they have the potential to serve as a catalyst in the efforts to attract additional biotech companies to Southwest Washington.”

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