By early April almost 80 companies and institutes in 19 countries were working on vaccines, most gene-based instead of using traditional approaches, such as those that have been employed in influenza vaccines for more than 70 years. The labs predicted that a commercial vaccine could be available for emergency or compassionate use by early 2021—incredibly fast, given that vaccines to brand-new pathogens have taken a decade to be perfected and deployed. Even the Ebola vaccine, which was fast-tracked, took five years to reach widespread trials. If Barouch, director of virology and vaccine research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. and his counterparts can offer a safe, effective concoction in a year, “it will be the fastest vaccine development in history,” he says.
A COVID-19 Treatment Inspired by Llamas
When llamas encounter pathogens like viruses and bacteria, their immune systems fight them off with two weapons: antibodies much like those made by the human body and much smaller antibodies called single-domain antibodies or “nanobodies.” Now, those nanobodies have inspired a potential treatment for COVID-19 that may be able to be delivered straight to the lungs, where the virus tends to set up shop.
Scientists from the University of Texas (UT) at Austin, the National Institutes of Health and Ghent University in Belgium developed a treatment that links two nanobodies isolated from a llama to create an antibody that binds to the spike protein on the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. That bond prevented the virus from invading cells, the researchers reported (PDF) in the journal Cell.