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Biotech company in Vancouver expands to bigger headquarters

Gov. Jay Inslee participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new headquarters of biotechnology company Absci, which moved to East Vancouver earlier this year

VANCOUVER, Wash. — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee visited Vancouver Tuesday afternoon to participate in a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new headquarters of biotechnology firm Absci.

Absci specializes in engineering E. coli bacteria to produce specific proteins and antibodies, licensing the microorganisms to big pharmaceutical companies for mass-production of drugs. CEO Sean McClain founded the company in 2011 in Portland State University’s Business Accelerator program. Inslee played a role in bringing Absci to Vancouver in 2016, investing $200,000 from his Strategic Reserve Fund.

“You recognized early on the importance of our mission,” McClain said to Inslee at Tuesday’s event.

The company has grown rapidly in the past five years, expanding from fewer than 20 employees at the time of the move to more than 230 today. Absci received two big recent rounds of new investor funding – $65 million in October 2020 and $125 million in March of this year – and then held an initial public offering in July, netting approximately $210 million and scoring a valuation of nearly $2 billion.

McClain announced the plan for the new headquarters last year and said the company had outgrown its space in the Hudson office building in downtown Vancouver, having already expanded from its initial office to occupy an entire floor.

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The new headquarters at 18105 SE Mill Plain Blvd sits within the Columbia Tech Center, a business and technology hub in East Vancouver. The building includes about 85,000 square feet of laboratory, office and meeting spaces, which the company said will triple its capacity.

“It’s the first time in three years someone hasn’t said to me ‘where are we going to put this desk?'" said Absci Facilities Manager Al Lammers.

The building is divided roughly in half between office space and lab space. Construction began in December 2020 to build out the interior of what started out as a “shell” building, according to Lammers, and Absci began moving over personnel in May. A couple sections are still being built out, he said, and scheduled to wrap up later this year and next year.

Inslee praised the company’s growth as a strong return on investment for Washington residents, describing it as both an economic engine and a “creation engine” in reference to the company’s systems for manufacturing proteins.

Credit: KGW
Gov. Jay Inslee with Absci CEO Sean McClain

Inslee and McClain both described Absci as an example of the potential of Southwest Washington to become a hub for life sciences and biotechnology. McClain noted that San Francisco-based Twist Bioscience is building out a large, new facility in Wilsonville.

“We’re starting to see this be a cluster for (synthetic biology),” he said.

The word “cluster” is an apt description, Inslee added, because it speaks to the way technology companies can start to collaborate across industries when enough of them are near each other. That’s a strategy that he said Washington is pursuing for the Vancouver area and other biotechnology hub regions in the state.

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