The Rundown (7/21/21)
This week we got a chance to sit down with Dr Eddie Sullivan, CEO of SAB Biotherapeutics and Sam Reich, CEO of Big Cypress Acquisition Corp, to talk about SAB’s innovative technology, SPAC mergers and the pandemic.
A New Paradigm in Immunotherapy
On 22nd June, SAB Biotherapeutics announced its merger with SPAC Big Cypress Acquisition Corp valuing the combined company at $325 million and providing the company with around $118 million in cash. The merger is expected to close in the fourth quarter this year with the company being listed on Nasdaq. SAB is a clinical stage biopharmaceutical company which produces a high potency, polyclonal antibodies at scale.
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subspac: First of all, congratulations to all of you for the merger. It’s exciting to see this, especially with the kind of breakthrough technology that’s being created at SAB. The last 18 months have especially been great for biotechnology companies. What would you say are the key drivers of growth going forward? And how can you build on the momentum?
Eddie Sullivan: Well, from that perspective, I would just, the pandemic, and everything that has been associated with the industry’s response, in so many ways, has also been important to our company. It’s important to know that SAB actually started a contract with the US Department of Defense in late 2019. To use this really exciting technology that we have to produce these fully human, highly potent, polyclonal antibodies within this platform that we have for responding to emerging diseases and pandemics. And so, that contract was supposed to be a three-year contract that was proof of concept and capacity building.
Of course, at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the US government came to us and asked us to respond by creating a fully human polyclonal antibody, which is very unique technology from all of the others that were being introduced in response to the pandemic. And we did exactly that. And we’re able to accelerate our programs and accelerate our capacity building within the company, which has been critically important. As you know, the entire industry has responded to the COVID pandemic. Along with things that happened with vaccine development and other therapeutic development, we were able to go from a concept to a clinical trial in 128 days, which, you know, by all previous standards is remarkable.
But that is now something that taking the lessons learned from the response to the pandemic. We intend, first of all, to be able to continue our very important work with the US government to be able to respond to any future potential pandemics or emerging diseases, of course, but on top of that, use the same lessons learned in developing our commercial targets, in other indications, including other infectious diseases obvious, but even to a greater extent in other disease indications like immune disorders, or even the use of human polyclonal antibodies in oncology.
subspac: Okay. So you spoke about the polyclonal antibodies that are being produced. What was the inspiration behind that for the company? And how would you say it differs from a monoclonal approach and what are the advantages over it?
Eddie Sullivan: When this technology was first conceived, it was really around looking at the landscape of immunotherapies in the world and seeing a gap that existed. There was really no way to produce truly human polyclonal antibodies and to target them to specific diseases outside of using human donors. And so by taking, the most advanced genetic engineering and antibody science, we were able to build a platform technology using genetically engineered large animals which in this case was cows. But more importantly, we focus the immune response that these animals have in such a way that they produce a fully human antibody.
This means that we can then target that fully human antibody response in a way that creates very high potencies. And then these antibodies can be given to people that are either sick, or that have been exposed to a disease, like, for instance, the Covid-19 virus. Since they are polyclonal, they act in the natural way that our bodies normally fight disease. So these polyclonal antibodies, not only neutralize the virus, but they also activate the other components of the human immune system that would be activated by a natural immune response.
subspac: So you mentioned that you took the Covid-19 study from concept to clinical in just 128 days. What would you say were the biggest challenges to achieving that? What what kind of development led to that kind of quick turnaround?
Eddie Sullivan: A good question. Obviously, the challenges for that was that we had to respond very rapidly, not only to develop the product itself, but to do internal capacity building within the company. The challenge was not to produce a few 100 doses but literally hundreds of thousands of doses. So to create a product as an emerging company but also to build the company infrastructure in such a way that we were able to move very, very quickly into the clinical trials and respond to the pandemic was the major breakthrough.
The technology is different from everything else and again is the natural way that our bodies fight the disease. It is different, obviously, than the vaccines, which are very critically important, but it really stands alone as being very, very unique. We are able to get titers that are extremely high, in other words, potencies of the antibodies that are extremely high. What this also means is that our antibodies also cross-react with variants that we did not vaccinate the animals to. Now the new variants, and we just published a report last week on SAB 185, our Covid Study, which shows that they have not lost potency to any of the variants that we have tested. In fact, based on our information so far, we’re very confident that we will have coverage to most of these variants that we’re seeing including the Delta variant.
Now, what makes it different from Monoclonal antibodies? If you think about it, Monoclonal antibodies are obviously a very large portion of the immunotherapy industry, but they bind to a single epitope. But in a polyclonal antibody, they nine to multiple epitopes and it is extremely difficult for for the virus to mutate all of of those epitopes in such a way to make the polyclonal antibodies lose potency. Now if you put pressure on one single place on that virus and it mutates, obviously the monoclonal antibody loses all potency. So what differentiates us is that because polyclonal antibodies are the natural way our body fights the disease, we have multiple antibodies that are binding to the spike protein. We are fortunate that our product does show coverage, again, to multiple variants of the virus.
subspac: So the company’s current pipeline of products spans Influenza, Covid-19 and you’re looking into studies for type one diabetes and so on. There are multiple catalysts for this year. If everything would go according to plan, how quickly would you estimate that the product could reach FDA approval? What would you say is the best case scenario ?
Eddie Sullivan: We’ll, obviously, there are best case scenarios that we can think about, particularly in terms of things like response to the pandemic. Some of that will depend on the rate at which we can enroll patients in our clinical studies, based upon the variants that are being circulated at any one time. And so we’re moving these forward absolutely at the fastest speed possible, given all of the conditions, and the competitive nature of these products in the clinic. It will still take time to finish that, of course, but we will do it as quickly as we possibly can.
subspac: Yes of course. So SAB recently announced its merger with SPAC Big Cypress Acquisition. What made you decide that you had to enter the capital markets now ? Why do you think now is the right time to go public ?
Eddie Sullivan: We’ll, in the course of development of any company, there reaches a critical point where you recognise that there are needs that continue to develop as you grow. Of course, having a product generation engine like a platform technology, is an opportunity for creating those value. In fact, at the end of last year, our board of directors made the decision that 2021 was the year that we had to start pursuing the path toward public markets.
And looking at everything that was going on in the markets SPACs are absolutely the viable pathway, I would say parallel path. In some cases, you can actually accelerate that entry into the public markets. You have to recognize that not all SPACs are the same. You have to determine the right size, the right amount of funds to raise, but also the management team and the synergies that can be developed between the companies. We found that in Big Cypress, as is the case in any good merger, you know you find a partner in that you have that synergy which becomes an opportunity to really build something.
We continue the interview in Part 2 Online! Click below to read it.