VALDIVIA – Investigators at Universidad Austral found that alpacas have “the world’s strongest antibodies.” Antibodies that can even fight off the South African, British, and Brazilian variants of coronavirus. However, research is still in the early stages and financial resources are scarce.
A group of Chilean, Australian, and European researchers at Universidad Austral in Los Ríos region found that alpaca antibodies can counteract more recent variants of SARS-COV-2. The promising discovery is at the preclinical trials stage; however, it may fall apart due to a lack of financial support for the investigation.
The Biotechnology Laboratory at the Valdivia-based university received CLP$200 million (~US$286,000) from Los Ríos regional government, hoping that the research will prove a significant advancement to deter the global pandemic, especially in Latin America, where the coronavirus has not stopped spreading. Despite this, the research team led by Alejandro Rojas said that the lack of funding may put a stop to the investigation.
Chilean scientists have also found astonishing properties regarding stability and expression of the antibodies to enable mass production, in an effort to provide a treatment to block the spread of coronavirus and its mortality, through a low-cost cure. “The results we have achieved alongside the University of Queensland, with whom we are collaborating, showed that the alpaca antibodies are capable of neutralizing the British and South African variants; moreover, it can link up to the spike protein in the Brazilian variant, so we can predict a neutralizing effect on this strain, which will be evaluated in the next few weeks,” explained Rojas.
A previous study carried out by the University of Texas in 2020 revealed that llamas had similar antibodies that neutralized the virus.
Lack of Funding
Rojas explained that despite the sponsorship from the Los Ríos government and a further CLP$10 million (~US$14,500) from Universidad Austral to go onto animal testing, additional funds will be needed to develop the thousands of doses and start clinical trials in Chile.
“The Science Ministry has failed in telling the government about this Valdivian breakthrough. Had they supported us from day one, we could already be carrying out clinical trials supporting the health response,” said Rojas. Additionally, he explained that a similar investigation at Gent University managed to garner an investment of over US$50 million for development purposes.
In the meantime, Rojas is grateful for the efforts made by the regional government to support scientific research.
Francisco is finishing his degree in Journalism at Universidad Finis Terrae in Santiago.