New research could produce COVID-19 antibodies derived from cattle to treat the coronavirus.

Amanda Radke

May 3, 2021

3 Min Read

New research continues to emerge regarding COVID-19, and at home in South Dakota, it’s cattle leading the way in some new and important science that could potentially benefit human health.

In Sioux Falls at SAB Biotherapeutics, a herd of genetically modified cattle are producing human antibodies that can neutralize coronavirus.

The antibodies produced by these bovines are being tested as a potential treatment in a trial sponsored by the National Health Institute (NHI).

According to Julie Anderson for the Omaha World-Herald, “The cattle, a Holstein mix, have been genetically modified to have a partially human immune system. During a clinical trial sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, two different doses of the cow-produced antibodies are being tested in people with mild to moderate COVID-19.

“SAB Biotherapeutics, the Sioux Falls biotech firm that developed the antibody-producing technology, announced late last month that the first patient in the trial already had received a dose of the antibodies, a product called SAB-185.”

Although COVID vaccines are now available across the United States, SAB co-founder, president and CEO, Eddie Sullivan, is working to provide treatments that would be effective for another virus with a high ability to mutate.

Related:Meat workers are less likely to contract Covid-19

Anderson reports, “Indeed, monoclonal antibody therapies have been used throughout the pandemic. But the company’s product, Sullivan said, produces a polyclonal response, meaning the antibodies can bind to more than one site on the coronavirus. Monoclonal antibodies, as the name suggests, can bind to only one. Humans naturally fight disease through a polyclonal response.

“That could be important at a time when variants of the coronavirus have begun to outmaneuver some monoclonal antibody treatments. The Food and Drug Administration last month rescinded emergency approval for one monoclonal therapy when used by itself because it had “lost potency” against some variants.”

So what’s the process for producing these antibodies?

The cattle are injected with a noninfectious portion of the coronavirus, and the cattle produce antibodies to fight it. With each injection, the animals build up higher levels of neutralizing antibodies, and Sullivan said the research has found the antibodies to be 40 times higher than what’s identified in convalescent plasma donated by people who have recovered from COVID-19 and more than what are found in vaccinated people, as well.

According to the article, "The SAB antibodies are being added to an ongoing NIH trial that also is testing four other possible therapies in patients worldwide, run by an existing research network. A total of 220 patients, 110 at each of the two sites, will receive the product. Their results will be compared to patients who receive a placebo.

Related:How has COVID-19 impacted beef demand?

“The company has been working to develop the technology behind the product for nearly two decades. Support for the development of the product now in trials came through a federal contract.”

Previous work from SAB has included using cattle to research and produce antibodies to fight Zika, Ebola, cancer, diabetes and influenza.

To learn more about SAB’s work, visit

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of or Farm Progress.

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