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Less than a week ago, Roche snagged regulatory approval for Xofluza, a single-dose oral medication, the first new flu treatment approved in 20 years. Now, new research indicates that llamas, the doe-eyed South American pack animal, may hold the key to flu vaccines.
The Los Angeles Times reports that a team from the Scripps Institute in Southern California has been able to take antibodies made by llamas and used them as the basis for a flu vaccine. The llama antibodies are effective enough to work on a wide number of flu viruses, according to the report. The Times reported that the Scripps researchers reported their findings in the latest issue of Science.
The team started with prior research showing that llamas produce a unique type of antibody that is able to attach to more vulnerable parts of influenza viruses. They injected test llamas with vaccines that had three different kinds of disabled flu viruses. The vaccine also had a viral surface protein from two other types of flu. Then, once the llamas had produced antibodies to the newly introduced viruses, the researchers harvested them—four types in all. Next, they engineered a gene that expresses a protein composed of nanobodies derived from the four antibodies in the llamas. The final step was splicing the engineered gene into a benign virus.
To test their approach, the researchers created a nasal spray that launched the loaded virus into the nasal cavities of test mice and then tried to infect the mice with 59 different types of flu that infect people. They report that the mega-antibody was successful in warding off every single virus strain tested.
They report that the mega-antibody was successful in warding off every single virus strain tested.