06/08 News Flash 4: Alpacas, Antibodies, and Antivirals

Art by Anmei Little.

Although alpacas are known for their soft, warm fleece, they may soon be known for their antibodies. The alpaca antibody Ty1 has antiviral potential for COVID-19, according to researchers at Karolinska University Hospital in Sweden.

As members of the camelidae family (also including llamas and camels), alpacas produce two types of antibodies: one similar to human antibodies and another “nanobody” that is seventy-five percent smaller. These nanobodies can bind to crevices on the surfaces of viruses and have been used to treat other respiratory viral infections.

After injecting an adult male alpaca with COVID-19 over sixty days, scientists collected the antibodies, zoning in on Ty1 in particular because of its ability to bind to the virus’s spiky surface proteins. This blocks the interaction between the spikes and the host cells so that the virus cannot enter.

Ty1 can be produced efficiently in large quantities via bacteria. A modified version could serve as an antiviral treatment given in the early stages of infection to stop COVID-19 from spreading between cells.