Melbourne researchers trial use of common blood-thinning drug heparin to combat COVID-19 - ABC News
Melbourne researchers have turned one of the world's most-used drugs into a nasal spray which they hope could prevent COVID-19 transmission.
- The nasal spray is expected to be effective against emerging COVID variants, including Omicron
- The drug will be trialled in 340 Victorian households over the next six months
- The spray does not require refrigeration and could be distributed widely
Northern Health medical divisional director Don Campbell said he had a "crazy idea" that the blood-thinning drug heparin could stop the virus growing in cells.
But it wasn't until his wife asked "well, what are you going to do about it?" that he got to work.
Nearly two years later, with the help of researchers at Melbourne, Monash and Oxford Universities, his team has been able to replicate international findings that heparin can block the transmission of COVID-19 and prevent infection.
The spray coats the nose but does not go down into the lungs. The researchers say it is cheap, easy to distribute and is expected to be effective against mutant strains of the virus including the Omicron variant.
"It won't matter if a new variant comes along, this drug will block that protein from infecting the cells," Professor Campbell said.
"I'm very confident that we can demonstrate that it will work, and people will be using this before they go to the shops and before they go to school."
Household contacts to be part of trial
The treatment has received $4.2 million from the Victorian government to undergo clinical trials.
Over the next six months, 340 Victorian households will be given the heparin nasal spray or a placebo, within hours of their household contact testing positive, to reduce transmission.
"The treatment will be given to household family contacts of the persons who get COVID, and we will also give it to the person who is infected," Professor Campbell said.
"We want to get to them within 24 hours of the diagnosis being known and we are confident we can do that."
Heparin is the second most-widely used drug on earth and is stable at room temperature for more than three months, meaning it can be widely distributed.
Director of the Lung Health Research Centre at the University of Melbourne, Gary Anderson, said the spray would be easy to use — two puffs each nostril, three times a day.
Professor Anderson is excited about the science behind the treatment, describing it as "cool".
"When [COVID] first gets into the nose it binds to a molecule called heparan and if it mutates that binding site it can't bind," he said.
"Heparin is so close in structure to heparan that it binds on and paralyses the virus, so it stops it infecting and also stops it spreading to others."
Spray seen as complementary to vaccination
Director of the Medicines Manufacturing Innovation Centre at Monash University, Michelle McIntosh, has spent the past 20 months working on the best possible formulation for the nasal spray.
She said some coronavirus vaccines had limited distribution in some countries because they needed to be stored at ultra-low temperatures.
"One of the wonderful things about heparin is it is already available on the market as an approved product for another purpose, it doesn't require refrigeration and can be stored in plastic vials so it can be distributed very widely and effectively," Professor McIntosh said.
The nasal spray treatment is one of seven local coronavirus treatment research projects that will share in $13 million of funding from the Victorian government.
Victorian Medical Research Minister Jaala Pulford said it's hoped the heparin nasal spray can be manufactured locally.
"Coronavirus is not going away any time soon and our amazing researchers are doing work that stands to make a real difference," Ms Pulford said.
"These projects will benefit not just Victorians but people around the world."
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Posted 21 Dec 2021 21 Dec 2021 Tue 21 Dec 2021 at 7:08pm, updated Yesterday at 1:28am Wed 22 Dec 2021 at 1:28am