COVID immunotherapy derived from Fifi, a llama shows significant potential in preliminary trials. Here’s all you need to know about the latest COVID-19 treatment.
What is COVID immunotherapy from a llama?
COVID immunotherapy is a treatment based on nanobodies. Nanobodies are small and simpler versions of antibodies. Camels and llamas naturally produce nanobodies as a response to infections. Scientists believe that once this new therapy is tested in humans, it can be as simple as a nasal spray. This COVID immunotherapy has the potential to prevent and treat early infection.
Professor James Naismith, the director of the Rosalind Franklin Institute in Oxfordshire described this novelle therapy as ‘fantastically exciting’. He is one of the lead researchers of the study. In the study, rodents infected with coronavirus upon treatment with the nanobody nasal spray completely recovered in under six days. As of now, it has not begun human trials. However, Public Health England called it one of the “most effective SARS-CoV-2 neutralizing agents” tested to date.
How does this COVID-19 treatment work?
According to the study, the COVID-fighting potency of the therapy is from the strength of binding between the nanobodies and the virus. Similar to the antibodies in our body, these virus-specific nanobodies lock on and adhere to bacteria and viruses which attack our bodies. This binding tags the virus with a ‘red flag’ and allows the rest of the immune system to target and destroy it.
The study used nanobodies from llamas since it has high binding strength. “That’s where we had some help from Fifi the ‘Franklin Institute llama’. The immune system is so marvelous that it still does better than we can – evolution is hard to beat,” added Professor Naismith. Hence, by vaccinating Fifi with a small piece of non-infectious piece of the viral protein, researchers stimulated Fifi’s immune system and made special molecules. Then they picked out and purified nanobodies with high potency-the best lock and key fit.
“We need more data on efficacy and safety before we move to human trials. However, it’s very promising nonetheless and the fact it may be cheaper and easier to administer is a plus. Covid-19 will be, unfortunately, with us for a while yet, so more treatments will be needed,” explained Professor Sheena Cruickshank. Professor Cruickshank is an immunologist at the University of Manchester.