Aussie heart attack drug could help COVID-19 patients
Exclusive: A blockbuster drug that could prevent heart attacks and possibly treat the blood clots that kill COVID-19 patients has been discovered by Australian scientists.
It has the potential to be one of the biggest medical breakthroughs in 20 years and could save the lives of up to 18 million people globally.
Monash University scientists report in the journal Science Translational Medicine they have found a chemical that prevents platelets in the blood forming a clot during stress events that cause a heart attack.
Unlike existing treatments, it does not appear to carry the risk of prompting life threatening uncontrolled bleeding and it does not stop clots forming when they are needed such as when a person suffers cuts and abrasions.
"This is kind of the holy grail of heart attack and stroke prevention, balancing effects on bleeding versus clotting," said Associate Professor Justin Hamilton, from the Monash University Australian Centre of Blood Diseases.
The drug has been found to work in human cells in a test tube and in mice but more funding is needed for human clinical trials.
Many scientific discoveries that work in mice do not work in humans so this next stage of testing is critical.
Heart attacks and strokes are Australia's biggest killers but existing preventive treatments are not very effective.
"There's essentially been no completely new drugs in about 20 years which is quite remarkable and this is why we're particularly excited about this approach, because we think it might be able to sort of crash through that ceiling," Assoc. Prof. Hamilton said.
The Heart Foundation's chief medical adviser Professor Gary Jennings said the drug was shaping up as a "blockbuster".
"Everyone's after this kind of this kind of treatment, and therefore if it was successful, it would definitely be a blockbuster, here's no question about that," Prof Jennings said.
"It's terrific it's great science and very promising but of course there's a long way to go yet before you'd have a pill in a bottle."
The new drug may also prove useful in treating COVID-19.
Three in four critically ill COVID-19 patients are dying from widespread blood clots caused by the virus.
"It's something we're very interested in testing, but I just need to be really careful with what I say, this is not a COVID-19 panacea," Assoc. Prof. Hamilton said.
The drug being developed by the Monash team would not reverse clots that have already formed.
Instead, it would be taken daily as a preventive therapy by somebody with diabetes or high cholesterol or who has been identified as being at high risk of a heart attack or stroke.
As a lifelong daily treatment it could be a lucrative proposition for a pharmaceutical company.
The team did not observe any gross side effects in mice who were given the drug candidate.
"They're bleeding time is completely normal, they do form clots to heal wounds," Assoc. Prof. Hamilton said.
When the research team found the enzyme involved in blood clots it isolated the gene responsible and developed a mouse that was missing just that gene.
The mice were completely protected against heart attack but the researchers didn't understand why.
"It drove us mad," Assoc. Prof. Hamilton said.
When the team used high powered microscopes to look at ultrathin "slices" of the platelets from these mice they saw a slightly modified membranes that stopped them attaching to each other or to blood vessel walls when there was a change in blood flow.
"It is this blood flow perturbation which is a hallmark and predictor of a heart attack," Assoc. Prof. Hamilton said.
When this happened the platelets responded by creating clots, which caused a heart attack.
Originally published as Aussie heart attack drug could help COVID-19 patients