As Fifi the llama munches on grass on a pasture in Reading, her immune system has provided the template for a coronavirus treatment breakthrough.
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 means they can be “redesigned” in the lab.
Professor James Naismith, director of the Rosalind Franklin Institute – and the lead researcher – described the technique as akin to cutting a key that fits the coronavirus lock.
“With the llama’s antibodies, we have keys that don’t quite fit – they’ll go into the lock but won’t turn all the way round,” he said.
“So we take that key and use molecular biology to polish bits of it, until we’ve cut a key that fits.”
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In this day and age, understanding bacteria and viruses and developing vaccines are national security issues. In my view sizable part of every country’s defense budget should be spent in these pursuits rather than making tanks and other weapons.
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