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Company Using Cows To Fight COVID Gets $57 Million

SAB Biotherapeutics
A cow at SAB Biotherapeutics

More money is flowing to a South Dakota company that hopes to create a treatment for COVID-19.

SAB Biotherapeutics in Sioux Falls is getting $57.5 million from agencies involved in Operation Warp Speed. That’s the government’s effort to find and fund treatments for the disease.

This is the fourth government award for SAB since March. All told, the company has received $129.5 million since then.

The company’s approach is unique. It’s using cattle to produce human antibodies that fight the coronavirus.

Eddie Sullivan is the president and CEO. He said some people will need antibodies even after vaccines are deployed, either because they won't get vaccinated or won't respond to it well. He compared the situation to influenza vaccinations.

“I’m sure all of us know that getting the influenza vaccine is very, very important,” he said, “but it doesn’t 100-percent guarantee us that we’re not going to get the flu, and so treatments are needed.”

SAB uses cattle because the company says they produce antibodies in greater quantities and greater potency than humans.

The company starts by altering cattle genes to produce human antibodies. The altered genes go into cattle embryos, and cows give birth to genetically altered clones.

The cloned cattle are used for their blood. They get injected once a month with a part of the virus that stimulates the production of antibodies. Three times a month, they give blood plasma containing those antibodies.

Because the antibodies are human, Sullivan said doctors could put them in IVs to prevent and treat COVID-19.

“The whole purpose is to both make it less severe and to hopefully be able to make it a shorter duration of disease,” Sullivan said.

SAB has conducted safety trials with healthy volunteers. The company is conducting clinical trials with hundreds of COVID patients to test the effectiveness of the antibodies.

-Contact SDPB reporter Seth Tupper by email.

Seth supervises SDPB's beat reporters and newscast team. He works at SDPB's Black Hills Studio in Rapid City.