Close  

Belgian llama holds key to possible coronavirus treatment

/ 06:46 PM May 10, 2020
Llama, coronavirus

Dorien De Vlieger, doctoral researcher, examines a laboratory test tube that she uses for her research on llama antibodies. Image: AFP/Kenzo Tribouillard

Scientists the world over are scrambling to perfect an anti-viral treatment for the novel coronavirus, and following what might seem to be some unusual trails.

Belgium’s top researchers insist that their efforts to isolate an anti-body grown in a llama — the Andean beast of burden — is based on a solid lead.

ADVERTISEMENT

Professor Xavier Saelens of the Flemish Institute of Biotechnology (VIB) in Ghent told Agence France Presse, that if it works it would not be the first time the camel-like beast has helped out.

“There’s already a drug on the market that came from a llama antibody,” he said, citing caplacizumab, used in the blood disorder thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura.

FEATURED STORIES

Now he believes his team are on the threshold of another “great breakthrough” in the hunt for a treatment, this time for those caught in the coronavirus pandemic.

Saelens and his Belgian colleague Nico Callewaert are working with a United States team from the University of Texas Austin, led by professor Jason McLellan.

A female llama called Winter has been injected with a protein present on the surface of the novel coronavirus, first detected in China last year, and has reacted by developing antibodies.

These, in turn, appear capable of playing a role in shielding the carrier and neutralizing the threat of the virus.

“The llama had an immune response to this protein,” said VIB researcher Dorien De Vlieger.

“Our goal is to produce an anti-viral treatment that would involve directly administering these antibodies to patients,” she said.

The first testing on human patients could begin “before the end of the year.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Researchers elsewhere are working on possible vaccines against the virus, which would trigger recipients to develop their own antibodies against the disease.

‘Secret location’

But this could take a long time and would not be useful for patients already infected with COVID-19.

An anti-viral treatment based on llama antibodies would not end the crisis, but it is a promising route towards a way of helping the already sick and slashing the death toll.

The VIB laboratory has a worldwide reputation in the field and operates independently of the pharmaceutical industry, as an academic institution affiliated with Ghent University.

Its researchers had a head start on the coronavirus, having begun the collaboration with the Texas team in 2016 targeting more general respiratory SARS-type diseases.

But the fast-spreading and deadly new outbreak caused them to step up their endeavors.

The antibody extracted from the llama bonds with a big area of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) which causes COVID-19.

This prevents it from penetrating host cells and infecting the victim.

“It’s an important breakthrough in the fight against COVID-19,” said Saelens.

And what of Winter, the hero of the fight? She is being kept at a secret location within Belgium.

“We’re worried about animal rights activists,” said De Vlieger. “But we also have to do our best to keep her stress levels down.” RGA

RELATED STORIES: 

WHO: Funds raised for coronavirus vaccine ‘powerful’ show of solidarity

‘Don’t waste any minute:’ Chinese firm readies mass coronavirus vaccine production

For more news about the novel coronavirus click here.
What you need to know about Coronavirus.
For more information on COVID-19, call the DOH Hotline: (02) 86517800 local 1149/1150.

The Inquirer Foundation supports our healthcare frontliners and is still accepting cash donations to be deposited at Banco de Oro (BDO) current account #007960018860 or donate through PayMaya using this link .

TOPICS: Animals, Belgium, coronavirus, COVID-19, llama
Read Next
EDITORS' PICK
MOST READ
Don't miss out on the latest news and information.
View comments

Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.

For feedback, complaints, or inquiries, contact us.


© Copyright 1997-2020 INQUIRER.net | All Rights Reserved

We use cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By continuing, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. To find out more, please click this link.