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Could Heparin Prevent Coronavirus Infection?

A discussion with an RPI investigator after promising early findings.

New data from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) shows US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved anticoagulant heparin may lower the odds of SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Heparin, a blood thinner also available in non-anticoagulant formulations, has been found in research to bind tightly with the coronavirus’ surface spike protein—the same protein by which the virus binds to human cells.

Investigators now speculate this tight binding with heparin could interfere with coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) infection.

However, more research must be done into the proposal. Investigators have yet to assess the effect of heparin binding in even animal models, and is awaiting results from further analyses to interpret unique administrations of the anticoagulant—potentially, they noted, as a nebulizer inhalant.

That doesn’t change that this proposed “decoy” strategy may be a viable and immediately feasible one in the prevention or early treatment of SARS-CoV-2 infection.

In an interview with Contagion, RPI study author and professor Bob Linhardt, PhD, a glycoscientist, discussed the clinical history of anticoagulants binding to novel viruses, how this discovery came to be by his team, and what may come next in their research.

“Of course, it’s been used to treat late-stage COVID—either in the ICU or after someone’s on the respirator, when they’re forming these micro-clots,” Linhardt explained. “But we’re more interested in early-stage COVID treatment, and maybe pre-symptomatic treatment in people exposed to the virus.”