A novel drug that protects people against deep vein thrombosis on long-haul flights is being developed by Australian and US scientists.
Researchers from Melbourne’s Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute and Harvard Medical School have engineered a novel mechanism that homes in on a clot that has begun to form and blocks its progression.
Deep vein thrombosis, or DVT, is caused by a blood clot, most commonly in the legs. Sitting in the same position for hours on a plane, together with lower air pressure, less oxygen and less hydration, increases the risk of a DVT developing. It can travel to the lungs and cause a pulmonary embolism.
The new drug has wider application too, and could be effective for blood-clotting events that cause heart attacks and strokes. The research, which has been 15 years in the making, involved engineering a unique antibody that can travel to a vulnerable spot where a clot is just beginning to form.
Dubbed the “miracle antibody” by Baker scientists, it is loaded with an anti-coagulant. This is the only antibody able to attach to the specific platelets that are beginning to form the clot and stop the process. Traditional therapy is not selective. It goes for all platelets and can lead to generalised bleeding, which can be dangerous.
As only very small doses of the new drug are needed, further bleeding side effects are avoided and the therapy promises to be safer, say the lead Australian authors, professors Xiaowei Wang and Karlheinz Peter.
“The drug can do two things,” Professor Wang said. “It can prevent a clot from forming and break down one already formed.
“Our hope is that a patient at high risk of DVT, about to take a long-haul flight, can be injected with it. If a clotting process begins, the drug will find its way to the clot, bind to it and prevent it forming.”
The same mechanism applies to a heart attack and stroke.
Human trial next
The drug has been proven to work in mice and in human blood.
“From what we have seen so far, there is no reason why it wouldn’t work in patients at risk,” Professor Wang said. “Its arrival on the market will depend on funding for the human trial. If further funding is secured, it should be available in five to 10 years.” Working together with Harvard, which is experienced bringing drugs to market, will help.
The study, led in the US by Professor Elliot Chaikof, chief surgeon at Harvard Medical School, has just been published in JCI Insight, a journal published by the American Society for Clinical Investigation.
Professor Peter, who filed the initial patent for the “miracle antibody”, says in addition to being an effective treatment for heart attacks, strokes and DVT, it can be used to protect at-risk patients before such events occur.
When he first saw the antibody find its target – watching on an imaging screen – he realised they had something important in their hands. “It was very satisfying.”