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Can Llama’s Save Us from COVID-19?

New research results indicated that llama antibodies could soon play a role in the fight against the Coronavirus. 

Clinical trials are currently being conducted by the Belgian VIB-UGent Center for Medical Biotechnology. Based on these trials’ findings, researchers say that the mammal’s antibodies have blunted the virulence of coronavirus infections, including variants. 

New technology is a “game-changer”, Chief Medical Officer of VIB-UGent spin-off ExeVir Dominique Tersago said, explaining that it can supplement rather than replace vaccines by protecting people with weaker immune systems and treating infected people in the hospital. 

Why can llama’s fight COVID?

Tests indicated that small llama antibodies can bind to a specific part of the virus’ protein spike, and “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 neutralization activity” against the highly infectious delta variant, she added.

Testing the llama’s antibodies

In order to receive effective results, researchers intend to conduct clinical trials in healthy volunteers along with those in hospitalized patients.

Advantages of a llama’s antibodies

Research indicated that llamas produce versions of conventional antibodies that are smaller, more stable, easier to reproduce, and more versatile than those of other mammals, said VIB-UGent Group Leader Xavier Saelens.

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

Meanwhile, Winter, the llama being tested, whose antibodies can now be reproduced in the lab, is enjoying retirement in a private animal park in Genk, Belgium.