A Belgian biomedical start-up has found that llama antibodies can blunt Covid variants and could therefore have a role in the global fight against Covid-19, reports Reuters.
According to clinical trials being conducted by researchers from the VIB-UGent Center for Medical Biotechnology in Ghent, antibodies extracted from Winter the llama have blunted the virulence of coronavirus infections, among them that of Covid variants. Llamas and members of the camel family, produce antibodies that are smaller, more stable, easier to reproduce and more versatile than those of other mammals, explained VIB-UGent group leader Xavier Saelens.
Thanks to their size, Llama antibodies can therefore bind to a specific part of the virus’s protein spike in the trials “at the moment we’re not seeing mutations of a high frequency anywhere near where the binding site is” explained Dominique Tersago, chief medical officer of VIB-UGent spin-off ExeVir. Tersago described the technology as a potential “game-changer” and said the antibodies also showed “strong neutralisation activity” against the highly infectious Delta variant.
Their small size… allows them to reach targets, reach parts of the virus that are difficult to access with conventional antibodies.Xavier Saelens, VIB-UGent group leader
These are not the first studies conducted into llama antibodies, as they were begun in 2016 in hopes of helping to fight the SARS and MERS coronaviruses and in 2018 France’s Sanofi paid 3.9 billion euros ($4.6 billion) for Ablynx, a Ghent-based medical company specialising in llama antibody research. The research in Ghent follows on from this past research. Clinical trials in healthy volunteers as well as hospitalised patients started last week, in partnership with Belgian pharmaceutical company UCB, and researchers expect them to be similarly effective.
The technology would be used to supplement rather than replace vaccines, protecting people with weaker immune systems and treating Covid patients in hospital. Winter’s antibodies can now be reproduced in the lab, so the llama has been retired to a private art and animal park in Genk.