NRC—an Invaluable Partner


Founded in Vancouver, B.C. in 2003, Zymeworks Inc. is a privately held biotherapeutics company that is developing best-in-class antibody and protein therapeutics for the treatment of cancer, autoimmune, and inflammatory diseases. Zymeworks combines proprietary molecular modeling software with high-performance computing to design and optimize protein therapeutics.

“NRC is not just our lab or another CRO [contract research organization], NRC is our partner. They bring the brainpower to the table, actually thinking about the assays we are developing and any possible problems. NRC is a conglomerate of what would otherwise be many companies, and their services are invaluable to Canadian companies such as ours.”
Dr. Ali Tehrani, Co-founder, President and CEO at Zymeworks

Like many start-ups, Zymeworks started with a concept, two people, and no intellectual property. The idea was to use high-throughput computational technology for rational protein engineering to address a need in the pharmaceutical and chemical markets that was not served by existing protein simulation and engineering approaches. Committed to developing best-in-class antibody and protein therapeutics, Zymeworks set out to create a platform technology that was commercially relevant. Its ZymeCAD™ platform was designed and built from scratch to be the most comprehensive, scalable platform for in silico protein modeling and engineering available on the market.

The relationship between Zymeworks and the National Research Council (NRC), an Innoventures Canada consortium member organization assisting Canadian companies in commercializing their research, has evolved over time. In 2005, as the company started to patent initial lines of code, it received funding support from the NRC Industrial Research Assistance Program for software and computational-related projects. Then, in 2009, as the company began attracting attention from pharmaceutical partners, Zymeworks engaged NRC again, this time as a more collaborative partner. “We were getting ready to sign our first partnership agreement with pharma [Merck], which required not only the development of the therapeutics, but also support after the deal was signed,” says Dr. Ali Tehrani, Co-founder, President and CEO at Zymeworks. “We didn’t have any labs of our own, and needed their [NRC’s Human Health Therapeutics (HHT) portfolio] expertise, infrastructure, and world-class capabilities in biologics to actually make them [proteins], test them, and give confidence to our partners that this was all possible.“

Over time, NRC completed several technical agreements with Zymeworks to validate its in silico platform technology, and validate therapeutic candidates developed from this platform. In 2013, the NRC-Zymeworks collaboration progressed from validating the company’s platforms to designing a pipeline of proprietary antibody candidates. NRC has delivered more than 10,000 virtually designed proteins using Zymeworks’ ZymeCAD™ platform, and assisted in the development of the company’s Azymetric™ platform (for bi-specific antibodies) and the AlbuCORE™ platform (for multi-valent antibodies).

from a software and design company to become a global leader in biotherapeutics development. Since 2003, the company has developed multiple platform technologies, earned several innovation and life-science awards, formed numerous partnerships with biopharmaceutical companies, signing deals in excess of $726,000,000, and attracted more than $50,000,000 in financing. Zymeworks currently employs 52 people, having expanded its Canadian team as well as its operations into Seattle, Washington. In March 2014, NRC and Zymeworks renewed their commitment by signing a three-year, multi-million dollar strategic collaborative agreement.

I have reviewed this document and release its content to Innoventures Canada and NRC for the purpose of impact reporting.

Dr. Ali Tehrani
President and CEO, Zymeworks Inc.

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