Llama antibodies and the SARS-CoV-2 virus | What is the link?

09 November, 2021

A new study from The Rosalind Franklin Institute has suggested that llama antibodies may be the next Covid-19 treatment reaching clinical trials in the UK. These llama antibodies, also known as nanobodies, have shown a rather promising development in the fight against COVID-19 and could provide the new frontline treatment against the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Nanobodies are a smaller form of antibodies generated by the camelid family, including animals such as llamas, alpacas and camels. These nanobodies have been found to bind tightly around the COVID-19 virus particles in the system and neutralise it, (The Independent). They can be created in laboratories and sorted into molecule chains. Creating the nanobodies into chains, it makes it more likely for them to be able to counteract the COVID-19 infection in the host. Primary testing of this new treatment for COVID-19 has shown positive outcomes with the nanobodies being able to reduce the risk of the Alpha and Beta coronavirus variants.

Professor Miles Carroll, Deputy Director of Public Health England’s National Infection Service has praised the findings and commented that the llama nanobodies, “are among the most effective SARS-CoV-2 neutralising agents we have ever tested. Although this research is still at an early stage, it opens up significant possibilities for the use of effective nanobody treatment for COVID-19. We believe in the unique structure and strength of nanobodies contribute to their significant potential for both the prevention and treatment of COVID-19 and look forward to working collaboratively to progress this work into clinical studies.” (Public Health England).

Fifi the llama, from the antibody production facility at the University of Reading, has been at the heart of this new study. Fifi was initially injected with the spike of the COVID-19 protein as to not make her sick, but instead trigger her immune system to fight the virus and generate the nanobodies to combat the virus. These were then extracted from Fifi’s blood and reproduced in a laboratory for testing. By carrying out this testing, scientists will have a wider understanding of how the SARS-CoV-2 virus works and how to combat its growth.

The most exciting part about this new discovery of nanobodies and their ability to tackle the COVID-19 virus is the simplicity and cost-effective manner in which it can be distributed to the public. Due to the microscopic size of nanobodies, they can be administered through a nasal spray or nebuliser. This contrasts the current use of human antibodies which must be distributed through injection by a medical professional. With the simplicity and ease of a new nasal spray, there will be reduced pressure on hospitals and medical professionals to dispense the nanobodies, (Rosalind Franklin Institute). Professor Ray Owens, Head of Protein Production at the Rosalind Franklin Institute and lead author of the research has commented on his findings, “Nanobodies have a number of potential advantages over human antibodies. They are cheaper to produce, and it is possible to deliver them directly to the airways through a nebuliser or nasal spray, so they can be self-administered at home rather than needing an injection. This could have benefits in terms of ease of use by patients, but it also gets the treatment directly to the site of infection in the respiratory tract.” The research team from The Rosalind Franklin Institute recently had their works published in the Nature Communications journal in September 2021, bringing a great deal of media attention to the research. The Institute is dedicated to transforming life science through interdisciplinary research and technology development, (UK Research and Innovation).

There is still significant testing and clinical trials this new research must complete prior to it being offered to the public, but this announcement shows the community there is hope a combatting the COVID-19 virus. It also shows the opportunity for life returning to normal soon. While this is a huge breakthrough, it is still of the upmost importance to test for the virus to help reduce the spread. Fortress Diagnostics offer PCR, Rapid, and ELISA testing for the SARS-CoV-2 virus. As the winter months roll in and the virus continues to grow, it is important to test to help save lives. For more information on our testing or to request a quote, please email marketing@fortressdiagnostics.com and a member of our team will be in touch.

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