The Israeli Scientist Investigating a New Way to Fight the Coronavirus with the Help of a Llama

November 18, 2020 | Nathan Jeffay
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Llamas are native to neither the Levant nor to New England, but a scientist in Jerusalem, using antibodies taken from a llama in Massachusetts, may have discovered a highly effective treatment for COVID-19. Unlike the vaccines that have recently been in the news, this treatment can be given to patients who already have the virus to hasten their recovery. Nathan Jeffay writes:

Dina Schneidman-Duhovny . . . has examined the qualities of dozens of antibodies from a llama called Wally, and identified which would best fight the coronavirus in humans. The best candidates have been tested in vitro by her U.S.-based colleagues with live coronavirus and human cells, and appear to reduce significantly the virus’s ability to infect cells.

Since llama antibodies are much smaller than human antibodies—they are often dubbed “nanobodies”—they are simpler and cheaper to replicate artificially. Researchers say they would not need to be taken intravenously, unlike human antibodies, and could be dosed via an inhaler, which is already being developed for clinical testing.

“They are highly potent,” Schneidman-Duhovny [said], adding that the nanobodies have the potential to help millions of patients. “The antibodies stick to the virus and just don’t come off, almost acting like glue. The antibodies are also very specific, targeting the novel coronavirus very precisely.”

Schneidman-Duhovny said that judging by their in-vitro performance, her team’s antibodies are more effective than anything seen to date. . . . . Her research, which has just been peer-reviewed and published in the journal Science, focuses on the potential of synthetically made antibodies, based on those produced by Wally, who lives on a Massachusetts farm.

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