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Engineered llama antibodies neutralise Covid-19 virus

New research from the UK shows that antibodies derived from llamas are able to neutralise the SARS-CoV-2 virus in lab tests.

white llama

The researchers are now screening antibodies from Fifi, one of the ‘Franklin llamas’ based at the University of Reading, taken after she was immunised with harmless purified virus proteins.
Credit: University of Reading

Researchers from the Rosalind Franklin Institute, Oxford University, STFC-funded Diamond Light Source and Public Health England hope the antibodies – known as nanobodies due to their small size – could eventually be developed as a treatment for patients with severe COVID-19. The research is published in Nature Structural & Molecular Biology.

Llamas, camels and alpacas naturally produce quantities of small antibodies – known as nanobodies – with a simple structure. The team engineered their new nanobodies from antibodies taken from llama blood cells. They have shown that the nanobodies bind tightly to the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, blocking it from entering human cells and stopping infection.

Llama antibodies are able to neutralise the SARS-CoV-2 virus in lab tests

Llama antibodies are able to neutralise the SARS-CoV-2 virus in lab tests.
Credit: Rosalind Franklin Institute

The team used X-ray and electron imaging techniques at STFC-funded Diamond Light Source and at Oxford University to identify that the nanobodies bind to the spike protein in a new and different way to other antibodies already discovered.

Professor James Naismith, Director of The Rosalind Franklin Institute and Professor of Structural Biology at Oxford University yesterday said:

"These nanobodies have the potential to be used in a similar way to convalescent serum, effectively stopping progression of the virus in patients who are ill. We were able to combine one of the nanobodies with a human antibody and show the combination was even more powerful than either alone."

The Rosalind Franklin Institute is a new research institute funded through UK Research and Innovation's Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. Read more about this important new research.


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