Llamas’ antibodies might soon play a crucial role in preventing new Covid variants popping up, according to a promising Belgian start-up.
Clinical trials have started within the VIB-UGent Centre for Medical Biotechnology in Ghent, after researchers said antibodies from a llama reduced the severity of Covid infections during their lab tests.
The antibodies in question – from a llama called Winter in the initial tests – are unusually small, meaning they can bind to part of the virus’ protein spike.
The chief medical officer linked to VIB-UGent, Dominique Tersago, said this could be a “game-changer” for treating infected people in hospital.
It could also help protect those with weaker immune systems by supplementing the Covid vaccines.
Llama antibodies appear to blunt the efforts of the virus particles.
Tersago said: “At the moment we’re not seeing mutations of a high frequency anywhere near where the binding site is.”
The leader of the research group Xavier Saelens said: “Their small size…allows them to reach targets, reach parts of the virus that are difficult to access with conventional antibodies.”
Covid variants have triggered waves of infection to pass around the world. At the moment, the highly-contagious Delta variant has caused a national lockdown in New Zealand and a state of emergency has been declared in Japan.
Llama antibodies appear to establish “strong neutralisation activity” against the Delta variant.
Llamas also produce a high yield of the antibodies, which again, makes them beneficial for vaccines.
Yet clinical trials are needed – along with healthy volunteers – to test how effective this method truly is.
Winter’s antibodies are now stored in a lab and are ready to be reproduced. The llama is now enjoying retirement.