• The antibodies from a llama blunted the virulence of the virus
  • The technology could neutralize COVID-19 and its variants
  • The technology could help boost protection levels in people with weakened immune systems

Llama antibodies may help prevent COVID-19 infections caused by more contagious variants, a Belgian biomedical company said.

A group of researchers from the VIB-Ugent Center for Medical Biotechnology in Ghent, Belgium, said that laboratory testing showed that antibodies extracted from a llama had blunted the virulence of COVID-19 and its variants.

According to the researchers, COVID-19 antibodies found in llamas were unusually small. However, their size allowed them to bind to the virus’ spike protein, which blocked it from infecting healthy cells.

"Their small size … allows them to reach targets, reach parts of the virus that are difficult to access with conventional antibodies," VIB-UGent group leader Xavier Saelens said, as reported by The New York Post.

The findings could be a potential “game-changer” against the highly contagious Delta variant, said chief medical officer Dominique Tersago, Reuters reported. She noted that the antibodies have a "strong neutralization activity" against the variant.

The researchers launched clinical trials last week to study whether the antibodies would have similar results among healthy and hospitalized patients. The researchers, who partnered with Belgian pharmaceutical company UCB for the trial, said they are expecting the antibodies to be similarly effective.

If the team’s clinical trials prove to be a success, the llama antibodies could act as a supplement to boost the protection levels in people with weakened immune systems or those who have been admitted to the hospital due to coronavirus-related concerns.

The recent study comes after a group of Israeli and American researchers found a nanobody cocktail that could neutralize COVID-19 and its variants. The nanobodies were also derived from llamas and were found to be able to block the coronavirus from infecting cells.

"If we can produce an innovative drug through the cocktail, it will be a life-saving treatment – if given early in the disease," Dr. Dina Schneidman-Duhovy of Hebrew University School of Engineering and Computer Science, who helped lead the study with Dr. Yi Shi, University of Pittsburgh researcher, said, according to The Jerusalem Post.

"In addition, anyone exposed to a verified patient will also be able to use this treatment as a prophylactic (preventive) treatment."

The nanobody cocktail could also work in eradicating diseases that shared similarities with coronavirus, the researchers added.

A phlebotomist takes blood through a finger prick during a Covid-19 antibody test
A phlebotomist takes blood through a finger prick during a Covid-19 antibody test AFP / Frederic J. BROWN