In Brief

Coronavirus: how llama blood could save seriously ill Covid patients

Tests show that antibodies from the South American camelids can prevent the virus from entering human cells

Antibodies taken from the blood of llamas can be engineered to target the Covid-19 coronavirus to create a treatment that could save countless lives, new research suggests.

Scientists led by a team from Oxford University have tested the virus-fighting potential of antibodies from Fifi, a llama living in Reading, in laboratory trials.

Transfusions of antibody-rich blood plasma from recovered Covid-19 patients are already being trialled in hospitals across the UK, “but the new findings herald the prospect of a more potent and easily available treatment”, The Telegraph reports.

Llamas, camels and alpacas “naturally produce quantities of small antibodies with a simple structure, meaning they can be turned into nanobodies”, the newspaper explains. The researchers found that these nanobodies bind tightly to the spike protein of Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, which blocks and prevents the viral invader from entering human cells.

The team behind the study - outlined in a newly published paper in the journal Nature - hope that “llama-derived nanobodies could eventually be developed as a treatment for humans struck down with a severe case of Covid-19”, says the Daily Mail

However, the research is still in a very early stage, with “academics at the Rosalind Franklin Institute at Oxford University condensing a process which would normally take almost a year into just 12 weeks”, the newspaper adds.

Study leader James Naismith, a professor of structural biology and director of the institute, said that the “nanobodies have the potential to be used in a similar way to convalescent serum, effectively stopping progression of the virus in patients who are ill”.

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