Medgene Labs develops COVID-19 vaccine for companion animals

Courtesy photo: Lyle Braun, an employee and scientist with Medgene Labs, is shown at work in the Brookings lab. Medgene Labs says it has developed a COVID-19 vaccine for companion animals and that it has shown promise in pre-clinical studies.

BROOKINGS – Medgene Labs hosted members of the South Dakota Legislature at its vaccine production facility in Brookings recently to discuss possible funding sources for a new COVID-19 vaccine developed for companion animals. 

The vaccine has shown promise in pre-clinical studies, the lab reports. 

Medgene Labs is an animal health company that provides vaccines and services to livestock producers and veterinarians. Established with technology licensed from South Dakota State University, Medgene Labs is South Dakota’s first and only federally-licensed vaccine production company. It is capable of producing more than 250 million vaccine doses per year. 

Recently, Science Magazine reported there was strong evidence of animal-to-human transmission of COVID-19 on mink farms in the Netherlands. Denmark has announced that it will cull 1 million mink due to infections on its farms. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has been tracking confirmed cases of COVID-19 in animals, which has included cats and dogs. Cats in particular have been shown by Colorado State University to be highly susceptible to COVID-19 infection.

Medgene Labs used its ISPRIME platform technology to develop the COVID-19 vaccine. The technology is designed to rapidly make vaccines for animals at risk for emerging diseases. This is especially important as virus mutations occur and commercial vaccines become ineffective. Although more information is needed to understand animal-to-human transmission of COVID-19, Medgene Labs wants to help eradicate the disease in both animal and human populations and prevent further economic loss in South Dakota. 

“This is the point of platform technologies,” Chief Technology Officer and SDSU professor Alan Young said. “Working closely with regulatory agencies to be prepared and respond to the threat of emerging diseases, such as COVID-19. Whether in animals or humans, platform technologies work and help prevent the spread of disease. Medgene Labs is prepared.” 

One of the concerns expressed by scientists is a reservoir of COVID-19 establishing in animals. This gives the virus an environment to mutate and infect animals and people with a different strain at a future point in time. There are currently six main COVID-19 strains that researchers have identified and are monitoring.

“COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on our local, national, and global economy – especially in our food and agriculture supply chains,” Chief Executive Officer Mark Luecke said. “Medgene Labs has a technology that works and talented scientists to bring a proven solution to market quickly. We are looking forward to further discussions with state and federal officials about our ability to help prevent further economic loss.” 

There are more than 95 million cats in the United States, and close to 90 million dogs. Coronaviruses impact livestock as well. Porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDv) is a coronavirus that killed 8 million baby pigs in the U.S. in 2013. 

“It is important that we start to use our technology and get ahead of these devastating events,” Luecke said. “Use of COVID-19 federal relief funds for local vaccine production in partnership with the State of South Dakota is approved in the federal guidelines. It would generate new jobs in South Dakota, stimulate our local economy, and protect South Dakotans from further economic loss by helping to eradicate the disease.”

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