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Llamas could be the answer to COVID treatment breakthrough

2020-07-19

Llamas may hold the answer, or at least one of the answers, to defeating COVID-19.

Scientists at England’s Rosalind Franklin Institute have taken llama antibodies — typically smaller and “more simply structured” than human antibodies — to create an “antibody cocktail” specific to the potentially lethal disease, BBC News reported Monday.

The team is eyeing animal trials for this summer and hoping to begin clinical trials later in 2020.

The potential treatment, findings about which were published Monday in Nature Structural & Molecular Biology, entails “engineering” the creature’s antibodies to eventually “redesign” them in a lab.

“With the llama’s antibodies, we have keys that don’t quite fit,” Professor James Naismith, Rosalind Franklin Institute director and the study’s lead researcher, told the outlet. “They’ll go into the lock but won’t turn all the way round.”

He explained that scientists would then utilize “that key and use molecular biology to polish bits of it, until we’ve cut a key that fits.”

The re-engineered portion, he said, is called a nanobody, and scientists can manufacture to “kill the live virus extremely well — better than almost anything we’ve seen,” given how they attack the disease in culture.

Antibodies adapt in response to a virus or bacteria and as Naismith put it, should someone be “re-infected,” with the virus, the body then seeks out virus particles “with antibodies stuck around them and destroys them.”

The nanobodies kill the virus by locking onto a “spike protein” on the virus’ external capsule, and in turn stop the spike from getting into human cells.

Such immune therapy would benefit the immune system of someone ill so they already possess antibodies that have adapted to COVID-19.

“Although there is currently no ‘cure’ or vaccine for the disease, passive immune therapy by transfusing critically ill COVID-19 patients with serum from COVID-19 convalescent individuals has been shown to improve clinical outcomes,” the study reads.

“This would suggest that neutralization of the virus, even at a relatively late stage in the disease, may be a useful COVID-19 therapy.”