Antibodies from the blood of llamas could be used to develop a new treatment for patients who are seriously ill with COVID-19.
Laboratory tests have shown that the antibodies can fight the coronavirus – and scientists hope to drive the breakthrough in preclinical studies.
The antibodies – known as nanobodies due to their small size – could be designed to neutralize them Corona virus.
The scientists found that the nanobodies can bind tightly to the Sars-CoV-2 spike protein – the virus that causes it COVID-19 – by preventing it from entering human cells and stopping infections.
The work was carried out by a team from the Rosalind Franklin Institute, Oxford University, Diamond Light Source and Public Health England.
The immune system produces antibodies when it is attacked or in response to infections.
Llamas, camels and alpacas naturally produce lots of small antibodies with a simpler structure that can be converted into nanobodies.
The researchers are now evaluating the results of antibodies from Fifi, a llama at the University of Reading.
The results show that Fifi’s immune system produced antibodies different from those already identified, allowing cocktails of nanobodies to be tested against the corona virus.
It is hoped that future treatment can be applied in a manner similar to convalescent serum, in which antibodies are drawn from blood donated by people who have done so recovered from an illness.
James Naismith, director of the Rosalind Franklin Institute and professor of structural biology at Oxford University, said: "These nanobodies can be used in a similar way to convalescent serum, effectively stopping the progression of the virus in sick patients.
"We were able to combine one of the nanobodies with a human antibody and show that the combination is even more powerful than both alone."
The study was published in Nature Structural and Molecular Biology.