AbCellera
Credit: AbCellera

The bio company is building a huge new facility in Vancouver 

On the face of it, AbCellera Biologics is building a massive new lab in Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant neighbourhood. That in itself is huge news for the city’s tech sector and for a company that has already made huge advancements in biotech that have been felt around the world. But the company and the people behind it are also hoping it’s the start of much more.  

The biotech firm, which researches and develops antibodies, announced this week it was breaking ground on the second phase of its new headquarters, located just behind its current offices in Mount Pleasant. The second phase, developed in partnership with Beedie, is going to be a 210,000 square foot building that, along with the first phase building located next door, will give the company almost 400,000 square feet of new headquarters when it's completed in 2025.  

It represents a huge next step for AbCellera, which developed the first COVID antibody treatment and reached unicorn status. “We’ve come a long way from UBC—we were in a small room where all the walls were pink,” said co-founder and chief operating officer Véronique Lecault at a press conference announcing the groundbreaking. “At some point, we grew big enough that it was time to move on from the university. We made the deliberate decision to stay close to the city. But we needed a lab, which isn’t that easy to find in Vancouver. We had to build it and we chose Mount Pleasant to do so. We wanted to be part of a vibrant community where there is creativity and innovation at every corner.” 

Indeed, AbCellera says its 450 employees are feeling the crunch in their current HQ and the company is currently looking to bring on hundreds more over the next several years. It’s also hoping that this development is the first of a bristling tech hub in Mount Pleasant akin to some notorious clusters stateside.

“There’s a huge bottleneck for these kinds of facilities, and other companies are really facing barriers in terms of how to find the right specialized facilities they need to accommodate their growth,” said Murray McCutcheon, AbCellera’s senior vice president of corporate development. “It’s very difficult to do that in Vancouver, there aren’t purpose-built labs that are available to rent. If you need that, you need to go and build it, typically.” 

Will other companies follow suit? The powers that be think so.  

“It’s not easy, but someone has to be first,” said Beedie’s director of development Katie Maslechko. “We’re already seeing proof in the pudding in terms of the types of innovative companies that want to be, quite literally, here. It’s been really great to see AbCellera lead in that way.”  

Added McCutcheon: “If you look at hubs globally in Cambridge or in San Francisco, it usually takes a first company like a Biogen in Cambridge to say, We’re going to build here, and that starts to catalyze new developments and new companies that start to grow and lift the sector together.”