Heparin revolution: it will be produced in the laboratory

Heparin revolution: it will be produced in the laboratory


Heparin, one of the most widespread anticoagulant drugs in the world, could soon undergo the revolution that affected insulin in the 1980s, moving from extraction from animal organs to production in the laboratory. Researchers at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, USA, have in fact developed a procedure for the production of a bioengineered heparin that does not involve the use of animals. The process has been illustrated on Pnasthe journal of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States.

Heparin is among the most used drugs in the world. Today it is mainly extracted from the intestines of pigs. “Nearly 100 tons of heparin are produced annually worldwide, from nearly one billion pigs, and the global heparin market was approximately $7.4 billion in 2022,” the team adds. “Over 70% of heparin comes from a single country of origin (China), and attempts to diversify the supply chain have been challenging,” the researchers explain. These methods of production made the drug very vulnerable to episodic shortages. For example, “an outbreak of porcine respiratory and reproductive syndrome between 2006 and 2007 necessitated mass culling, resulting in a dramatic decline in the supply of crude heparin.”

In the new study, the research team identified a procedure that exploits the bacterium Escherichia coli to produce a bioengineered heparin analogue. The product, after several steps, is converted into a molecule very similar to the low molecular weight heparin currently on the market. At the moment the group is working, also together with the FDA, to move from laboratory production to industrial scale production.
“Our work will make it possible to produce heparin that is consistently available and safe,” said the study coordinator Jonathan Dordick.


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