Coronavirus: Llamas And Nanotechnology Provide Key To Immune Therapy
Scientists from the UK’s Rosalind Franklin Institute have used Fifi’s specially evolved antibodies to make an immune-boosting therapy. The resulting llama-based, Covid-specific “antibody cocktail” could enter clinical trials within months.
The development is published in Nature Structural and Molecular Biology.
It involves “engineering” llama antibodies, which are relatively small, and much more simply structured than the antibodies in our own blood. That size and structure mean they can be “redesigned” in the lab.
Antibodies are part of what is known as the adaptive immune system; they are molecules that essentially morph in response to an invading virus or bacteria.
“Then if you get re-infected,” explained Prof Naismith, “your body looks for any [virus particles] with antibodies stuck around them and destroys them.”
This type of immune therapy essentially boosts a sick person’s immune system with antibodies that have already adapted to the virus.
There is already evidence that antibody-rich blood, taken from people who have recently recovered from the coronavirus, could be used as a treatment. But the key trick with this llama-derived antibody therapy is that the scientists can produce coronavirus-specific antibodies to order.
The small re-engineered part of the llama antibody is also known as a nanobody, said Prof Naismith. In the lab, we can make nanobodies that kill the live virus extremely well – better than almost anything we’ve seen,” he added. “They’re incredibly good at killing the virus in culture.”
The nanobodies do that by binding – or locking onto – what is known as the “spike protein” on the outside of the virus capsule; disabling that spike prevents it from gaining access to human cells.
-By Aishwarya Thapa
Executive Member, BSN