Scientists Say Llama Antibodies Could Be Key to Defeating COVID

"This is one of the first antibodies known to neutralize SARS-CoV-2."

5. 6. 20 by Victor Tangermann
Tim Coppens
Image by Tim Coppens

Scientists say lamas could help defeat the coronavirus.

According to a new study published in the journal Cell Tuesday by an international team of researchers, antibodies found in the blood of llamas were able to stave off COVID infections.

“This is one of the first antibodies known to neutralize SARS-CoV-2,” Jason McLellan, from the University of Texas at Austin and co-author of the study, said in a statement.

The researchers built on previous research from four years ago in which they found that the antibodies from a then 9-month-old llama named Winter were able to neutralize both SARS-CoV-1 and MERS-CoV viruses over six weeks.

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Luckily, the antibodies from Winter — who’s now four years old — also staved off SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Surprisingly, this isn’t the first time llamas have been used in antibody research, as The New York Times reports. Llama antibodies have been used in work related to HIV and infleunza, where they helped discover promising therapies.

Thanks to the llamas’ antibodies’ small size, they can connect with different parts of the virus more easily.

“The binding of this antibody to spike is able to prevent attachment and entry, which effectively neutralizes the virus,” Daniel Wrapp, Dartmouth Ph.D. candidate and co-author, explained in the statement.

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Scientists are hopeful a treatment plan for the newly infected in the form of antibody therapies is particularly promising.

“Vaccines have to be given a month or two before infection to provide protection,” McLellan said in the statement. “With antibody therapies, you’re directly giving somebody the protective antibodies and so, immediately after treatment, they should be protected.”

“The antibodies could also be used to treat somebody who is already sick to lessen the severity of the disease,” McLellan added.

“There is still a lot of work to do to try to bring this into the clinic,” Xavier Saelens, a molecular virologist at Ghent University in Belgium and co-author, told the Times. “If it works, llama Winter deserves a statue.”

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