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Sioux Falls biotech firm rushing to develop coronavirus treatment

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A Sioux Falls company — with its team of scientists and a herd of genetically engineered cows — is working feverishly to develop and produce an effective treatment for people infected with the coronavirus.

SAb Biotherapeutics has emerged as a major player in the effort to generate a viable antidote to the fast-moving virus that is sweeping across the world and the United States, so far sickening more than 140,000 and killing several thousand.

Eddie Sullivan, CEO of SAb, said the company is working on producing a polyclonal antibody therapeutic to coronavirus that it expects will be ready for the pre-clinical and clinical-trial evaluations by the end of the summer, paving the way for a potential treatment shortly thereafter, depending on the pace of regulatory approval.

“The important thing to know is that our capacity and technology allow us to produce a candidate therapeutic more rapidly than any other technology available,” Sullivan said.

If successful, Sullivan said, SAb’s coronavirus treatment has the potential to be extremely effective because it may not only kill the virus but also help to reduce symptoms of the disease. These include fever, dry cough and shortness of breath, which can appear two to 14 days after exposure. Some patients with the disease, especially the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions, can die.

“Our therapeutic will neutralize the virus, because it’s a polyclonal antibody,” Sullivan said. “This is the natural way our bodies respond to disease, so it also works in conjunction with the rest of the immune system to not only eliminate the virus, but to help the patient with inflammation and all the other things associated with activation of the immune system.”

For nearly 20 years, SAb has been developing and perfecting a unique method of using genetically engineered cows as the source from which to harvest antibodies that can fight human diseases such as influenza, diabetes and cancer. The company originated at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and moved its headquarters to Sioux Falls in 2002, Sullivan said. The company now operates from a site on 60th Street North in Sioux Falls, just southwest of the intersection of Interstates 90 and 229.

SAb is focused on producing antibodies targeted at the SARS-CoV-2 virus, commonly referred to as the coronavirus, which causes the COVID-19 disease that is causing illnesses and deaths.

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