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Targeting COIVD-19 Spike Protein with Heparin

The data from this study has stimulated international efforts exploring the use of the therapy for SARS-CoV-2.

A recent study published in the British Journal of Pharmacology and the journal Thrombosis and Haemostasis, has found that Heparin, a common anticoagulant therapy, reduces the SARS-CoV-2 virus’ ability to attach to and infect human cells and inhibits the spike protein. The research was conducted by an international team of investigators in collaboration with the Universities of Liverpool, Keele and Public Health England.

"This is exciting news since heparin could be rapidly repurposed to help alleviate Covid-19 infections, or possibly as a prophylactic treatment for high-risk groups such as medical staff or care workers,” Jeremy Turnbull, a professor from the Department of Biochemistry and Systems Biology at the University of Liverpool said. “The results have also led us to investigate other novel compounds which mimic heparin that could potentially be effective against SARS-CoV2."

The investigators behind the study conducted molecular modeling with collaborators at Queensland University and also studied a live SARS-CoV-2 virus in Public Health England’s Porton Down Laboratory. The research showed that heparin is able to adhere to the surface of the spike protein and could inhibit the cell’s infectivity at doses that are currently being used in clinical settings.

These experiments demonstrated that the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has its structure destabilized by the therapy, which prevents the virus from entering the ACE2 receptor on human cells.

"We also know that heparins inhibit a range of other viruses, so studying these drugs could provide new therapeutic strategies, and possibly a first-line of defense against emerging viral threats in the future, for example while vaccines are developed," Mark Skidmore, a co-author on the paper said.

Additionally, the data uncovered during the study strongly supports clinically testing an inhaled version of unfractionated heparin, considering a direct delivery to the lungs would present very strong anti-viral effects.

"The Covid-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the delivery of NHS services and local communities,” Quentin Nunes, a Consultant at the East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust who is leading efforts to begin clinical trial of nebulized heparin in ITU patients in the UK said. These results strengthen the need for further investigation of heparin as a treatment in Covid-19 patients."