A £15 blood-thinning drug could help Covid patients and prevent lung damage, a study suggested today.
Researchers based in the UK and Australia found heparin improved oxygen levels of hospitalised patients by 70 per cent.
The drug is unique because of its combination of anti-viral, anti-inflammatory and anti-coagulant effects, experts said.
Heparin — which is found in drugs such as Lovenox — is already used in hospitals to treat infected Brits suffering clots. It is usually injected but doctors found it was safe and effective for Covid patients when inhaled.
Experts believe the drug works by preventing the virus multiplying in the lungs, while its anti-inflammatory properties stop the immune system overreacting.
Covid can be deadly because it has the potential to damage the lungs, which blocks the flow of oxygen around the body to major organs. Severely ill patients have also been found to suffer blood clots in the lungs.
Doctors said the drug could be used in poorer countries where fewer people have been vaccinated so are more at risk of being hospitalised.
Researchers from King’s College London and the Australian National University found heparin improves oxygen levels by 70 per cent in virus patients. Graph shows: Blood oxygenation in 98 Covid patients before and after being given the blood thinner on day zero
Professor Frank van Haren, study author from the Australian National University, said: ‘This drug is already available in hospitals all over the world.
‘It is a very inexpensive drug. If it is as effective as our early results suggest, it could have a major impact in our fight against Covid.’
Around 20 per cent of people infected with the virus develop hypoxaemia — a drop in oxygen saturation in the blood.
This is the main cause of hospitalisation, according to the ANU and King’s College London researchers.
And some of those in hospital experience respiratory failure, with up to a quarter requiring mechanical ventilation in intensive care.
Covid can also cause the body’s immune system to overreact in a process known as inflammation. The virus also causes blood clots in some patients.
Co-author Professor Clive Page, from King’s, said: ‘Inhaled heparin has antiviral properties which work by binding to the spike proteins the coronavirus uses to enter the cells of the body.
‘Inhaled heparin effectively stops the virus infecting cells in the lungs and could also stop people from getting the virus from others.
‘It also works as an anti-inflammatory drug — the medicine has the ability to calm everything down when the body is mounting an exaggerated response to the virus.
‘We already know heparin can reduce lung damage caused by this inflammation and the immune response overdrive that we see in other lung diseases which could provide benefit to patients hospitalised with Covid.’
He added: ‘There is no other drug that has these three different effects – anti-viral, anti-inflammatory and anti-coagulant.’
Britain currently has two antiviral treatments specifically for Covid approved — Merck’s molnupiravir and Pfizer’s Paxlovid — but the researchers will continue to collect evidence on heparin’s use in fighting off the virus.
Other treatments for seriously ill patients including monoclonal antibodies and dexamethasone.
The study, published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, analysed 98 Covid patients in hospital with the virus who were given heparin in the US and Argentina between April 2020 and January 2021.
Most patients would not have been vaccinated because of the time frame.
They were split over two hospitals in the US — Frederick Health Hospital in Maryland, and Coney Island Hospital in New York — and the San Camilo Clinic in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
The patients in the study had an average age of 66. The majority were not hooked up to ventilators.
Around 20 per cent of people infected with the virus develop…