Charlotte Foster


Llama antibodies become a "game-changer" in the fight against COVID-19

Llama antibodies become a "game-changer" in the fight against COVID-19

A lab in Belgium have conducted some unusual clinical trials in the fight against COVID-19. 

Researchers from the VIB-UGent Centre for Medical Biotechnology in Ghent have discovered that antibodies from llamas have the ability to stunt the severity of coronavirus.

Antibodies extracted from a llama, named Winter, have been dubbed a "game-changer" after the Belgian biomedical start-up believes they can curb the effects of different COVID-19 variants.

The unique technology would supplement rather than replace vaccines by protecting people who are immunocompromised and treating infected people in hospitals. 

Unusually small llama antibodies are able to bind to specific parts of the virus’s protein spike.

Dominique Tersago, chief medical officer of VIB-UGent spin-off ExeVir, has said the discovery could be huge for COVID-19 advancements. 

“At the moment we’re not seeing mutations of a high frequency anywhere near where the binding site is,” Tersago said.

The antibodies also showed “strong neutralisation activity” against the highly infectious Delta variant, she added.

Researchers expect clinical trials in healthy volunteers, which started last week in partnership with a Belgian pharmaceutical company, along with those in hospitalised patients, to be similarly effective.

VIB-UGent group leader Xavier Saelens said that llamas and other members of the camel family, have conventional antibodies that are smaller, more stable and easier to replicate. 

“Their small size... allows them to reach targets, reach parts of the virus that are difficult to access with conventional antibodies,” he said.

The unusual search for alternative COVID-19 treatments follows a series of studies from 2016 into llama antibodies to help treat the SARS and MERS coronaviruses. 

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