Llama-Based 'Antibody Cocktail' Can Treat COVID-19 Patients In Severe Condition

Dhir Acharya - Jul 15, 2020


Llama-Based 'Antibody Cocktail' Can Treat COVID-19 Patients In Severe Condition

Scientists have created a therapy to boost the human immune system for COVID-19 treatment using Fifi the llama’s evolved antibodies.

This llama looks nothing related to the COVID-19 pandemic, but she’s actually a very important part of ongoing efforts to develop immunotherapy for the disease that has killed nearly 600,000 and infected 13 million people worldwide.

Specifically, scientists from the Rosalind Franklin Institute in the UK have created a therapy to boost the human immune system for the deadly respiratory disease using Fifi the llama’s evolved antibodies. The team could put the resulting antibody therapy in clinical trials in the coming months.

Fifi the llama
Fifi the llama

The institute is developing this therapy in collaboration with Public Health England, Oxford University, and Diamond Light source. Lead researcher, Professor James Naismith described the technique as cutting a key that fits the coronavirus lock. He said:

“With the llama's antibodies, we have keys that don't quite fit - they'll go into the lock but won't turn all the way round. So we take that key and use molecular biology to polish bits of it, until we've cut a key that fits.”

Antibodies are molecules that morph to respond when the body is attacked by a virus. Then, if the person is re-infected, the body will look for any virus particle with antibodies stuck around it and destroy it.

There’s already evidence supporting the idea that we can use antibodies of patients recovered from COVID-19 to treat severe patients with passive immunization, giving them a line of defense against the coronavirus.

Antibodies from llamas have been known to neutralize the coronavirus in lab tests. That’s why Fifi the llama is playing a role in this research. Furthermore, different from human antibody therapies, scientists can use llamas to make coronavirus-specific antibodies to order through a method extracting a small re-engineered part of the llama’s antibody called nanobody.

“In the lab, we can make nanobodies that kill the live virus extremely well - better than almost anything we've seen. They're incredibly good at killing the virus in culture.”

The technique can be used to treat severe patients
The technique can be used to treat severe patients

They can use the nanobodies as they can bind onto the virus’ spikes and stop them from accessing human cells, preventing the infection.

According to Naismith, the nanobodies can effectively stop the virus from progressing in infected patients. The research team combined a nanobody with a human antibody and the combination proved more powerful than either of them alone.

“Combinations are particularly useful since the virus has to change multiple things at the same time to escape; this is very hard for the virus to do. The nanobodies also have potential as a powerful diagnostic.”

In the next phase, the team expects to test this technique in animals this summer, and clinical trials later this year.

>>> People Refusing To Wear Masks To Avoid COVID-19 Tend To Have Low Intelligence, Study Shows

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