Small, synthetically produced antibodies can block the coronavirus from entering human cells. The discovery was made thanks to vaccinated llamas and alpacas.
These are so-called nano-antibodies, which can be used as a treatment against covid-19. The antibodies block the contact between the coronavirus and the cell that is needed for the virus to infect the cell. The antibody does this by binding the nail protein in the virus.
The method has been developed by researchers at Karolinska Institutet, together with colleagues at Bonn University in Germany and the Scripps Research Institute in the USA. And to the great delight of the researchers, it also worked against viruses that mutate.
– The virus tries to evolve so that the antibodies can not bind it, but in our experiments the virus did not have a chance. And then we used a very fast mutating variant, explains Martin Hällberg, researcher at Karolinska Institutet.
Even if other mutations occur in the future, the nano-antibodies can still function, as they are created synthetically and thus can be redesigned.
– We know at the atomic level how the antibodies bind to the virus, says Martin Hällberg.
The researchers produced the antibodies by vaccinating llamas and alpacas. The animals’ immune systems then produced various nano-antibodies that could be further experimented with.
– A variant where a llama antibody sits together with an antibody from alpaca was a fox shear that the virus never managed to get out of in our experiments, says Martin Hällberg.
Can become medicine
Now Martin Hällberg and his colleagues hope that the discovery can be used to develop a medicine that can be used as a supplement to the vaccine.
– It could be used clinically for already sick, or prevention of people who for some reason can not be vaccinated, or who have a weakened immune system and therefore may not form a sufficiently strong immune response after a vaccination, says Martin Hällberg.
The medicine could take the form of an inhaler. A German company is now working on developing a product that can be used clinically.
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