BENSON — A local sheep farm is helping in the effort to develop safe and reliable ways to treat COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, according to Dulcie Griffith, a veterinary technician and manager of Pleasant Valley farm.
In an email, Griffith explained the farm is part of Binding Site, a business that started out of the the University of Birmingham in England. The company produces more than 30 million diagnostic tests a year.
The way the tests are created may seem unusual. The sheep at the farm aren’t raised for meat or wool; they’re raised to produce antibodies used in testing.
The process starts when the sheep are immunized just as a human receives a shot to be be vaccinated for the flu. The sheep then make antibodies to the immunization that is taken through collection of their blood. The blood is shipped to the United Kingdom to be used in creating the antibody tests.
“Having the facility in Benson that is able to respond quickly and effectively is an important part of our business capabilities and ultimately the quality of the products,” Griffith said.
Binding Way’s expertise is in antibody specificity technology used to create specialist protein diagnostics.
“Our customers trust us to deliver specific, accurate and reliable tests for clinicians to use on their patients. We are therefore in a good position to use those skills towards the global fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and to help the millions of people affected,” Griffith said.
Binding Trust is in a partnership with two United Kingdom organizations, the University of Birmingham’s Clinical Immunology Service and University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust to improve the detection of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies.
The goal is to create a test that will detect antibodies against coronavirus to determine whether someone had a virus like COVID.
While Griffith acknowledged scientists and medical researchers still had a lot to learn about the respiratory disease, she called the research a “potential game changer in the long-term fight against COVID-19.”
“For example, it may support the testing of people who have received a vaccine, when one is available. To ensure vaccination has been successful. Our teams are working tirelessly on this project, but we are focused on getting it right rather than getting it first,” Griffith said.
Several of Binding Site’s immunodeficiency tests are used to measure the body’s response to COVID.
“Most people who contract COVID-19 will have a normal response as the immune system tackles the virus. However, for some, the immune system is plunged into overdrive and begins to kill healthy cells in its attempt to kill the virus,” Griffith said.
Tests created by Binding Site can be used to understand a COVID patient’s condition, according to Griffith.
Because the health of the sheep, as well as the 52 employees including animal laboratory technicians, animal husbandry technicians, administrators and farm workers, to the company’s work, Binding Place administrators have implemented guidelines from Gov. Phil Scott and his administration as they work to “flatten the curve” of the spread of the virus.
“Work simply cannot stop, and this is reflected at our offices around the world and our UK production facility who continue to produce the tests which make a difference to patient lives worldwide,” Griffith said.
Pleasant Valley farm also participated locally, hanging a banner that states, “Thank Ewe” to its employees, as well as to essential workers in the area.
In response to a Facebook effort that started in Rutland, “Help Vermont LIGHT UP the World,” a lit star has also been hung at the Benson site.