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Engineered llama antibodies neutralise Covid-19 virus

13 July 2020

New research from the UK shows that antibodies derived from llamas are able to neutralise the SARS-CoV-2 virus in lab tests.

Researchers from the Rosalind Franklin Institute, Oxford University, STFC-funded Diamond Light Source and Public Health England hope the antibodies - known as nanobodies due to their small size - could eventually be developed as a treatment for patients with severe COVID-19. The research is published in Nature Structural & Molecular Biology.

Llamas, camels and alpacas naturally produce quantities of small antibodies - known as nanobodies - with a simple structure. The team engineered their new nanobodies from antibodies taken from llama blood cells. They have shown that the nanobodies bind tightly to the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, blocking it from entering human cells and stopping infection.

The team used X-ray and electron imaging techniques at STFC-funded Diamond Light Source and at Oxford University to identify that the nanobodies bind to the spike protein in a new and different way to other antibodies already discovered.

Professor James Naismith, Director of The Rosalind Franklin Institute and Professor of Structural Biology at Oxford University said: "These 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. We were able to combine one of the nanobodies with a human antibody and show the combination was even more powerful than either alone."

The Rosalind Franklin Institute is a new research institute funded through UK Research and Innovation's Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. Read more about this important new research.

Last updated: 13 July 2020


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