How are llamas helping to develop new treatments for virus variants?

  • Watch the report by ITV Meridian's Mark McQuillan

Scientists at Reading University have told ITV News Meridian they are hopeful they have made a significant breakthrough in treating coronavirus.

The team have been using antibodies from llamas as part of their project, which is helping them learn more about virus variants with the aim of developing new treatments.

Llamas produce different antibodies to humans, called nano-bodies. They can provide scientists with vital new information about the virus and potential treatments.

What's the science behind it?

The llamas are injected with the spike protein of coronavirus and produce their own antibody response, without getting the virus.

The animals are one of a few species that produces nano-bodies which are smaller and potentially more effective than the antibodies humans produce.

A blood sample is then taken from the llamas for further research at the Frances Crick Institute.

Scientists will then use the research while learning more about new virus variants and pursuing potential long-term treatments.

The antibodies from llamas are being used to learn more about virus variants Credit: ITV Meridian

Professor Gary Stephens, School of Pharmacy, University of Reading says the animals have helped to isolate hundreds of different antibodies, which could potentially be used as therapeutic agents in their own right.

He says the antibodies could also be used in important structural information and help to provide more information about new Covid variants.

  • Prof Gary Stephens, School of Pharmacy, University of Reading:

Professor Stephens says the llamas are well looked after by the team in charge.

He says they don't feel any discomfort because llamas are "much more hardy than humans".

Scientists hope that, following this project, new treatments for Covid could be available in the next couple of years.