Llama Antibodies Could Help in Fight Against Coronavirus
Llama antibodies could soon be playing a part in the worldwide fight against COVID-19, if tests being done by a Belgian company live up to their early results.
Researchers from the VIB-UGent Center for Medical Biotechnology in Ghent say antibodies taken from a llama named Winter have reduced the spread of coronavirus infections, including variants, in laboratory testing.
Dominique Tersago is chief medical officer of ExeVir, a company that works with VIB-UGent.
Tersago described the technology as a possible "game-changer," which means something that has a big, good effect on a situation.
The technology's aim is to help rather than replace vaccines. It could possibly be used to help protect people with weaker immune systems and treat infected people in hospitals.
Unusually small, llama antibodies are able to attach, or bind, to part of the virus's protein spike. Tersago said, "at the moment we're not seeing mutations of a high frequency anywhere near where the binding site is."
The antibodies also showed "strong neutralization activity" against the highly infectious Delta variant, she added.
Neutralization means to stop something from being effective or harmful.
Researchers expect tests in healthy volunteers to be similarly effective.
The tests began last week in partnership with Belgian pharmaceutical company UCB.
Along with other llamas and members of the camel family, Winter produces antibodies that are smaller, easier to reproduce and have more uses than those of other mammals, said VIB-UGent group leader Xavier Saelens.
"Their small size... allows them to reach targets, reach parts of the virus that are difficult to access with conventional antibodies," he said.
Conventional means common, ordinary or usual.
The current research follows studies from 2016 into llama antibodies to help deal with the SARS and MERS coronaviruses. France's Sanofi paid $4.6 billion for Ablynx, a Ghent-based medical company that does llama antibody research, in 2018.
Winter, whose antibodies can now be reproduced in the lab, is enjoying retirement in a private art and animal park in Genk.
I'm John Russell.