If clinical trials by a Belgian biomedical start-up live up to their early promise, llama antibodies could soon be playing a role in the global fight against COVID-19 or CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus.

In laboratory tests, antibodies taken from a llama named Winter have decreased the pathogenicity of coronavirus infections, including variations, according to researchers at the VIB-UGent Center for Medical Biotechnology in Ghent, Reuters reported.

The method, which would protect those with weakened immune systems and treat infected people in hospitals rather than replacing immunizations, is a possible “game-changer,” according to Dominique Tersago, chief medical officer of VIB-UGent spin-off ExeVir.

Llama antibodies are unusually small, but they can bind to a specific portion of the virus’s protein spike, and “at the moment we’re not seeing mutations of a high frequency anywhere near where the binding site is,” she added.

She stated that the antibodies had “strong neutralization activity” against the highly contagious Delta variant.

Winter, like other llamas and camels, develops antibodies that are smaller, more stable, easier to replicate, and more adaptable than those found in other mammals, according to VIB-UGent group head Xavier Saelens.

“Their small size … allows them to reach targets, reach parts of the virus that are difficult to access with conventional antibodies,” he said.

The search for a CCP virus treatment began in 2016 with research using llama antibodies to combat the SARS and MERS coronaviruses. 

In 2018, Sanofi paid 3.9 billion euros ($4.6 billion) for Ablynx, a medical business based in Ghent specializing in llama antibody research.

In late 2020, the National Institutes of Health announced that their researchers developed antibodies against the CCP Virus from “a llama named Cormac,” according to The Blaze.

The NIH said researchers “immunized Cormac five times over 28 days with a purified version of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. After testing hundreds of nanobodies they found that Cormac produced 13 nanobodies that might be strong candidates.”

According to the NIH, a nanobody known as NIH-CoVnb-112 bound itself to the ACE2 receptor 2 to 10 times stronger than nanobodies created by other labs. The scientists subsequently demonstrated that the NIH-CoVnb-112 nanobody could be effective at preventing coronavirus infections.

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