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uOttawa researchers working on COVID-19 antibodies and nasal spray vaccine—and llamas are involved

The ambitious multi-lab project just received $1 million in funding from CIHR to help create therapeutic and diagnostic antibodies and a vaccine.
By: Alison Larabie Chase
September 29, 2020
Dr. Marc-André Langlois. Photo: University of Ottawa.

Virologist Dr. Marc-André Langlois and his team at the University of Ottawa are working on a project to try and create diagnostic antibodies and a COVID-19 vaccine that’s administered via nasal spray. They are part of a nine-lab team that was recently awarded a million dollars in funding from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research to pursue this important work. One of the parts of the project involves creating single-domain antibodies that work against several varieties of coronavirus (both to help fight COVID-19 and to provide advanced research in case another nasty coronavirus arises in future). Turns out, the best way to do this is in the immune systems of llamas. You heard us – llamas are apparently really efficient at producing these antibodies, which are able to target smaller surface areas on the virus in order to neutralize them.

Once they get those antibodies out of the llamas, Dr. Langlois’ team will clone them, mass-produce them, and use them to determine how fast the virus is mutating and how long a drug or vaccine will need to last in order to beat it.

The team is also working with plants to create spike proteins that mimic the surface of COVID-19, with the eventual goal a nasal-spray vaccine that’s cheaper to produce and easier to administer than traditional injected vaccines. Because most people catch COVID-19 through their nasal tissues, building an immune reaction there is extremely effective. Dr. Langlois says he thinks it’s reasonable that this approach will work, “and if it does, it will be a cheap way to produce a lot of vaccines for a lot of people, very quickly.”

Source: University of Ottawa

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