Winter lives on a farm in the province of Antwerp together with 130 other llamas. Four years ago, Professor Xavier Saelens and his team injected Winter with proteins from the SARS and MERS viruses. The researchers at UGent and VIB (Flanders’ strategic research center for biotech) wanted to find out how the llama would react to this injection, as part of their search for a vaccine against those earlier coronaviruses.
“At the time, there wasn’t much need for a treatment against coronaviruses,” the team explains. “But now that COVID-19 is paralyzing the world, we are conducting the research at an accelerated pace. The antibodies that Winter created at the time now serve as the basis for a new antibody. UGent and VIB developed the antibodies together with the University of Texas (US).”