Nasal spray treatment for COVID-19 in the works thanks to a llama named Fifi


Gifted One
Staff member
Apr 16, 2021
Perched on a rock in Canada
Scientists in the U.K. are developing a “potentially significant” treatment for COVID-19 that could be administered to patients in the form of a nasal spray, thanks to the tiny antibodies produced by a llama.

According to research from the Rosalind Franklin Institute the treatment has the potential to prevent and treat COVID-19.

“While vaccines have proven extraordinarily successful, not everyone responds to vaccination and immunity can wane in individuals at different times,” James Naismith, director of the Rosalind Franklin Institute, who helped lead the research, said in a statement.

“Having medications that can treat the virus is still going to be very important, particularly as not all of the world is being vaccinated at the same speed and there remains a risk of new variants capable of bypassing vaccine immunity emerging.”

To develop the treatment, researchers injected a llama named Fifi with a tiny, non-infectious piece of purified spike protein from the SARS-CoV-2 virus – the virus that causes COVID-19.

The scientists chose a llama specifically because of the species’ unique ability to produce tiny single-domain antibodies – or nanobodies – in response to an infection. Other camelids including alpacas and camels, and even sharks, can produce these nanobodies too.

Due to their small size, these nanobodies are able to bind more tightly to the SARS-CoV-2 virus than larger antibodies produced by humans. Once the nanobodies have latched on to the invading virus, the body’s immune system flags it for destruction.

Steven Kerfoot, an associate professor of microbiology and immunology at Western University in London, Ont., who was not involved in the research, said the big advantage of these smaller nanobodies is their ability to squeeze into tight spaces on a virus protein. He also said they’re much easier to produce in a lab than human antibodies.

“Nanobodies have a number of advantages over human antibodies,” Ray Owens, head of protein production at the Rosalind Franklin Institute and lead author of the research, said in a statement.

“They are cheaper to produce and can be delivered directly to the airways through a nebuliser or nasal spray, so can be self-administered at home rather than needing an injection.”

Throughout the pandemic, human antibodies have been used to treat serious cases of COVID-19, but they typically need to be administered by intravenous infusion in the hospital. The nanobodies, on the other hand, could be delivered in the form of a simple nasal spray.

“This could have benefits in terms of ease of use by patients but it also gets the treatment directly to the site of infection in the respiratory tract,” Owens added.