Coronavirus breakthrough: Scientists reveal llama blood contains useful antibodies

Researchers from the Vlaams Institute for Biotechnology in Ghent have reported molecules in camelids blood may serve as useful “therapeutics” during the outbreak. These antibodies have proved effective against a viruses such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in the past.

According to the research, the small size of the antibodies allows them to target microscopic viruses more effectively.

This is known as nanobody technology.

Such antibodies were first used in HIV research back in the 1980s.

These groundreaking properties of antibodies found in the blood of camelids (camels, llamas and alpacas) were first uncovered by a Brussels University in 1989.

A report seen by the Sunday Times said “The feasibility of using [llama antibodies]… merits further investigation.”

Camelids aren’t the only animals proving useful in finding a treatment for the coronavirus.

Another South Korean study, reported in the Cell Host and Microbe journal, found ferrets infected with Covid-19 responded similarly to humans.

The study claims this could be “a useful tool to evaluate the efficacy of [antiviral treatments] and preventive vaccines.”

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Researchers in Hong Kong have also found Syrian hamsters had a reaction to Covid-19 which “closely [resembles] the manifestations of upper and lower respiratory tract infection in humans.”

The study, published in Science magazine, found eight hamsters “lost weight, became lethargic, and developed ruffled fur, a hunched posture, and rapid breathing” after being infected with the virus.

Oxford University has also been carrying out animal trials of it’s own vaccine.

Tests of the experimental coronavirus vaccine have also showed promising results on animals.

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The new vaccine comes from chimpanzees, who are injected with the coronavirus to produce antibodies that can be used to bolster the immune system of humans.

The team are confident they can get jab for the incurable disease rolled out by autumn.

However, public health officials say it will still take a year to 18 months to fully validate any potential vaccine – despite the beginning of human trials.

Sarah Gilbert, a professor of vaccinology, admitted that this time frame was “highly ambitious” many things could get in the way of that target.

Oxford’s vaccine programme has already recruited 510 people, aged between 18 and 55, to take part in the first trial.

Speaking to the BBC World Service Professor Adrian Hill, who will lead the research, said: “We have tested the vaccine in several different animal species.

“We have taken a fairly cautious approach, but a rapid one to assess the vaccine that we are developing.”

The team are hoping to raise more funds to increase the amount they are able to produce worldwide.

He said: “We’re a university, we have a very small in house manufacturing facility that can do dozens of doses.

“That’s not good enough to supply the world, obviously.

“We are working with manufacturing organisations and paying them to start the process now.”

“So by the time July, August, September comes – whenever this is looking good – we should have the vaccine to start deploying under emergency use recommendations.”

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