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COVID-19: Antibodies 1000 Times Better At Neutralising SARS-Cov-2 Developed From Alpacas

According to a recent report, researchers at Germany's Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Biophysical Chemistry have developed antibodies that are highly potent and stable and can effectively block SARS CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19 [1].

The antibodies were developed from the blood of alpacas, a species of South American camelid mammal that looks like a llama. The scientists claim the mini-antibodies are effective against the new COVID variants and are up to 1000 times better than previously developed mini-antibodies [2]. Moreover, the researchers were able to perfect the mini-antibodies to such an extent that they are highly stable and heat-resistant [3].

COVID-19 Antibodies Developed From Alpaca Blood: Everything You Need To Know

As India is bracing itself for the possible advent of the COVID-19 third wave, Middle East has reported the fourth wave, triggered by the delta-variant [4]. Amidst this comes the study findings of alpaca blood antibodies, which could become a promising agent for treating COVID-19.

Efforts to design a safe vaccine for COVID-19 are moving forward. Yet, experts agree that it's likely to be a year, at least, before immunisation is ready. In the meantime, European scientists are exploring ingenious ways, such as the help of alpacas, using the latest techniques in molecular manipulation to repair coronavirus-induced lung damage or block the virus before it wreaks havoc in the body [5].

How are antibodies developed? How are they different from vaccines?

Vaccines are given to people when they are well, prompting them to develop their antibodies, whereas antibody therapy is administered when an infection has taken hold and a patient is struggling to develop or function through their own immune response [6].

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As recent research findings suggest, monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) (antibodies that are identical clones of one another) have emerged over the past few decades as effective therapies for various medical conditions, including cancers and autoimmune disorders [7].

And they are also considered a major medical tool to fight severe viral infections, such as COVID-19, although, to date, only one mAb has been approved for this purpose.

Why were alpacas chosen for the study?

Three alpaca mares Britta, Nora and Xenia, provided the blueprints for the COVID-19 nanobodies. The research team is focusing on mice, rhesus macaques and alpacas, and alpacas were shown to have a (possible) important role in producing particularly interesting antibody fragments, known as 'single domain', antibodies, which allow for fast antibody discovery and large-scale antibody production [8].

Mining the alpaca antibody repertoire is currently underway. Over the next few weeks, the researchers will be testing the neutralising activity of the produced antibodies against SARS-CoV-2.

The researchers had inoculated their alpacas with part of the spike protein of the first known SARS-CoV-2 virus. Their immune systems also produced antibodies active against the alpha, beta, gamma and delta variants of the virus.

"If our nanobodies prove to be too ineffective against a future variant, we can re-immunise the alpacas. Since they have already been vaccinated against the virus, they would very quickly adapt their antibodies to the new variants," the scientists added.

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What does this mean for COVID-19 management?

As nanobodies are easier to produce in comparison to other treatment methods due to the low cost of production, they can be produced inexpensively and quickly in large quantities, meeting the global need for COVID-19 drugs. Even the simplest mini-antibodies from the Göttingen researchers bind up to 1000 times more strongly to the spike protein than previously developed nanobodies against COVID-19 [9].

These antibodies bind very well to the mutant receptor-binding domains of the alpha, beta, gamma and delta strains. "Our simple nanobodies may be suitable for being inhaled to contain the virus in the respiratory tract. Also, because they are very small, they can easily penetrate tissues and prevent the virus from spreading further directly at the site of infection," said one of the scientists [10].

On A Final Note...

The study added that the COVID-19 antibodies are being prepared for clinical trials.

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