Llama antibodies have strong potential in treating COVID-19

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

In a new study from the Rosalind Franklin Institute, researchers found a unique type of tiny antibody produced by llamas could provide a new frontline treatment against COVID-19 that can be taken by patients as a simple nasal spray.

They found that nanobodies—a smaller, simple form of antibody generated by llamas and camels—can effectively target the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19.

They found that short chains of the molecules, which can be produced in large quantities in the laboratory, significantly reduced signs of the COVID-19 disease when administered to infected animal models.

The nanobodies, which bind tightly to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, neutralizing it in cell culture, could provide a cheaper and easier to use alternative to human antibodies taken from patients who have recovered from COVID-19.

Human antibodies have been a key treatment for serious cases during the pandemic, but typically need to be administered by infusion through a needle in the hospital.

The research team was able to generate the nanobodies by injecting a portion of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein into a llama called Fifi.

The spike protein is found on the outside of the virus and is responsible for binding to human cells so it can infect them.

Although the injections did not make Fifi sick, it triggered her immune system to fight off the virus protein by generating nanobodies against it.

A small blood sample was then taken from the llama and the researchers were able to purify four nanobodies capable of binding to the COVID-19 virus.

The nanobodies were then combined together into chains of three to increase their ability to bind to the virus. These were then produced in cells in the laboratory.

The team found three nanobody chains that were able to neutralize both the original variants of the COVID-19 virus and the Alpha variant that was first identified in Kent, UK. A fourth nanobody chain was able to neutralize the Beta variant first identified in South Africa.

When one of the nanobody chains—also known as a trimer—were administered to hamsters infected with SARS-CoV-2, the animals showed a marked reduction in disease, losing far less weight after seven days than those who remained untreated.

Hamsters that received the nanobody treatment also had a lower viral load in their lungs and airways after seven days than untreated animals.

The results are the first step towards developing a new type of treatment against COVID-19, which could prove invaluable as the pandemic continues.

If successful and approved, nanobodies could provide an important treatment around the world as they are easier to produce than human antibodies and don’t need to be stored in cold storage facilities.

If you care about COVID, please read studies about the cause of high COVID-19 death rates in men and older people and findings of this vitamin deficiency could strongly increase risk of COVID-19.

For more information about COVID and your health, please see recent studies about the most effective method to reduce COVID-19 spread and results showing that these two anti-inflammatory drugs could boost recovery from severe COVID-19.

The study is published in Nature Communications. One author of the study is Professor Ray Owens.

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