A crate of lobsters is seen at Cape Porpoise, in Kennebunkport, Maine in this August 2019 file photo. Dr. Robert Bayer, a scientist in Orono, Maine looking to develop medicinal products from lobster parts discarded at seafood processing plants, says the antiviral properties of a lobster extract could mean it has potential to treat COVID-19.  Credit: Robert F. Bukaty | AP

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A scientist with a startup company in Orono that is trying to use waste from lobster processing to treat warts, shingles and herpes says that an extract from lobsters might also be suitable for treating COVID-19.

Bob Bayer, the former head of the University of Maine’s Lobster Institute, says Lobster Unlimited LLC is looking for a bio-secure lab that is willing to test the lobster byproduct on the deadly virus that has shut down daily life across the nation.

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“It’s a potential treatment,” Bayer said.

Credit: Robert F. Bukaty | AP

Lobsters have a blood-like substance in their bodies called hemolymph that contains hemocyanin, a protein that carries oxygen to the lobster’s cells. The hemocyanin has anti-viral and immune-boosting properties, and already is being used in the development of cancer vaccines and treatments, according to Bayer.

Lobster Unlimited has developed a topical skin product — which is not yet on the market — that can be used to treat warts and shingles, both of which are caused by viruses, Bayer said.

“We’ve tried it on things like shingles, and it works,” he said.

The substance could also be effective against viruses that cause herpes, ebola, measles or colds. In October, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issued Lobster Unlimited a patent related to its work after experiments showed the substance can reduce the viral load of herpes simplex virus-infected cells, according to documents the company filed with the federal agency.

Whether hemocyanin might be an effective treatment for coronaviruses — the family of viruses that cause SARS and COVID-19 — is “far from a sure thing,” Bayer said, but nonetheless is worth testing.

“They appear to be effective against a variety of viruses, but have not been tested for efficacy on corona varieties,” Bayer said. “A simple test that needs bio-security would give us an answer.”

Other studies have shown that hemocyanin from other kinds of shellfish — including shrimp, oysters, horseshoe crabs and abalone — also has anti-viral properties, Bayer said.

One practical advantage to using lobster hemocyanin is that there’s already a significant supply of it passing through the regional seafood processing industry.

Each year roughly 2 million gallons of hemolymph, and all the hemocyanin it contains, run down the drain as waste at plants that process lobster into consumer seafood products, he said.

“Every processing plant in Maine and Canada has [hemolymph] all over the floor,” Bayer said. “I probably have a couple of gallons in my freezer. If it works [to treat COVID-19, large quantities] could be made available almost immediately.”

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Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....