Why llama antibodies could open the door for a universal flu vaccine

A nasal gene spray created from llama antibodies demonstrated nearly universal flu protection in mice trials, according to a study published Nov. 2 in Science.

Past research shows some individuals carry rare antibodies that protect against multiple flu strains. For the current study, researchers sought to unite these broadly neutralizing antibodies into a "mega-antibody," according to The New York Times.

Researchers took four flu antibodies from llamas and created a single artificial antibody using a combination of immunotherapy and gene therapy. Llamas create smaller antibodies than humans, which are easier to combine into one antibody, according to NYT.

Researchers injected the gene for the mega-antibody into a harmless virus and sprayed it into mice's noses, spurring them to produce the antibodies. The mice demonstrated protection against 59 out of 60 flu strains tested. The one strain the mega-antibody did not protect against was a form of bird flu that has never infected humans.

"That's something that made this quite a unique antibody," study co-author Joost A. Kolkman, an antibody engineer at Janssen Pharmaceutical Co., told NYT. "We saw a coverage that has never been seen before."

At present, vaccine-makers must guess which flu strain will dominate the upcoming flu season and create a vaccine with the appropriate corresponding antibodies. While researchers note further research is needed, these findings could open the door for a vaccine to protect people from many different flu strains at once, or even other viruses.

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