Although a few types of COVID-19 vaccines have begun to be distributed around the world, a unique technology, developed at University of California, San Francisco, may offer an even more direct way to prevent the coronavirus from multiplying within the body. The UCSF team created a synthetic antibody that prevents SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, from binding to human cells.
These synthetic antibodies, known as nanobodies, are modeled on tiny antibodies that camels and llamas often generate to protect themselves against coronaviruses. They target the spikes on the exterior of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that it uses to attach itself to ACE2 receptor proteins on human cells. By attaching themselves onto these spikes, the new nanobodies block the virus’s ability to attach to cells.
The nanobodies can be manufactured in massive quantities using bacteria or yeast and then turned into a dry powder. The powder can then be delivered via a nebulizer right into the lungs to offer direct protection against this persistent virus. Of course clinical studies will need to be conducted to validate the approach, but there are promising indications that it could be safe and effective. Laboratory experiments have already shown that the nanobodies stay attached to the SARS-CoV-2 virus for over a week and prevent it from infecting cells.
Here’s a University of California, San Francisco video with the researchers behind this technology explaining how it works:
Images credit: Kouzou Sakai | Folio Art via UCSF