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Llama Antibodies Are Stopping Covid Infections In Clinical Trials

by : Hannah Smith on : 24 Aug 2021 18:05
Llama Antibodies Are Stopping Covid Infections In Clinical TrialsPA Images

Llama antibodies capable of ‘neutralising’ Covid-19 could be a ‘game-changer’ in battling the Delta variant, according to scientists involved in clinical trials.

Antibodies from a llama named Winter have reportedly stopped the virulence of Covid infections during lab tests as part of a study being conducted by a Belgium start-up, raising the prospect that technology based on the antibodies could become part of the global fight against the virus and its more transmissible variants.

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Llama antibodies 'neutralise' the Delta variant (PA Images) PA Images

Research taking place at the VIB-UGent Center for Medical Biotechnology in Ghent has found that Llama antibodies – which are much smaller than human antibodies – are able to bind to specific parts of the Covid-19 protein spike, and demonstrated ‘strong neutralisation activity’ against the Delta variant.

‘At the moment we’re not seeing mutations of a high frequency anywhere near where the binding site is,’ said Dominique Tersago chief medical officer at the ExeVir biomedical start-up, per Reuters.

Clinical trials of the treatment for healthy patients began last week, with researchers believing that, if successful, the antibodies could become a treatment to supplement existing Covid-19 vaccines by treating those with weaker immune systems.

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Llama antibodies could become a Covid-19 treatment (PA Images)
Llama antibodies could become a Covid-19 treatment (PA Images)
PA Images

Antibodies produced by Winter, as well as all llamas and other camel species, are ‘smaller, more stable, easier to reproduce and more versatile than those of other mammals’, according to VIB-UGent group leader Xavier Saelens, who explained that their size ‘allows them to reach targets, reach parts of the virus that are difficult to access with conventional antibodies’.

Llama antibodies have previously been explored for their potential uses in neutralising infections from other viruses, including the SARS and MERS coronaviruses, with one French research company reportedly spending $4.6 billion to acquire a Belgian company researching llama antibodies in 2018.

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As for the llama involved in the ground-breaking Covid-19 antibody study, Reuters reports that Winter’s antibodies are now able to be reproduced in a lab, with the donor now reportedly living out the rest of its life in happy retirement in a Belgian animal sanctuary.

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Hannah Smith

Hannah Smith is a London-based journalist at UNILAD. After studying History at UCL she worked for print publications on both sides of the pond, including spells at Harper's Magazine and The Times, before graduating with an MA in Newspaper Journalism from City, University of London.

Topics: Science, Animals, COVID-19, Now