A team of scientists from China has found a new candidate drug against the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, which works by inhibiting a key part of the virus’s machinery.
A team of scientists has identified a compound that might help treat COVID-19.
Much of the world is on hold until scientists find a vaccine for the novel coronavirus, which has, so far, claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.
However, with current estimates suggesting that a vaccine is 12–18 months away, many people are placing increasing hope on an effective treatment for COVID-19.
The fast-growing list of possible treatments for the novel #coronavirus includes an unlikely candidate: famotidine, the active compound in the over-the-counter heartburn drug Pepcid. #covid19 via @ScienceMagazine https://t.co/ejcsJiQzK8
— Exponential Medicine (@ExponentialMed) April 26, 2020
For this reason, people have been eagerly awaiting news on Gilead’s experimental Ebola drug remdesivir, after former World Health Organization (WHO) Assistant Director-General Bruce Aylward described it as the only drug that the organization consider to have “real efficacy.”
Structure-based design of novel coronavirus vaccine
The scientists behind the current study — which features in Science — took a structure-based approach to designing a treatment, using the major components of the coronavirus as a starting point. The virus contains genetic information in RNA, which sits within an envelope of fats and proteins.
The production of these viral proteins occurs with the help of a specialized enzyme called a protease.
The scientists analyzed the coronavirus protease in detail to help them identify compounds that target a critical part of its structure.
Beginning with a starting material that is available from commercial suppliers, they performed a series of synthesis steps to create two lead compounds named 11a and 11b.
The scientists found that both compounds were good inhibitors of the enzyme, achieving 100% and 96% inhibition activity, respectively.
Fast tracking development
To investigate how the compounds work, the scientists used very high resolution imaging techniques. These studies showed that the compounds have similar mechanisms of action, both binding to the same key structure of the enzyme to block its activity and, thus, kill the virus.
Although both compounds showed favorable properties, final tests in animals showed that the first compound, 11a, is less toxic, making it the better candidate.