The COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause death and severe illness around the world. As many countries still experience vaccine shortages and the virus evolves to be more contagious, we need to develop better treatments for this disease.
A Possible Target:
The SARS-CoV2 main protease (Mpro) is an attractive target for drug treatment. The coronavirus needs this protease to process its proteins, an important step in its life cycle. Protease inhibitors are already in clinical use to treat other viral infections, such as HIV and hepatitis C. Repurposed existing drugs can get approval to treat disease faster than new drugs because their safety and pharmacokinetics are already known. Can we repurpose known protease inhibitors to treat SARS-CoV2 infection?
Two recent scientific studies address this question.
Docking and Molecular Dynamics Simulations:
Bello et al. built a computer model of Mpro and twelve promising protease inhibitors: darunavir, indinavir, saquinavir, tipranavir, diosmin, hesperidin, rutin, raltegravir, velpatasvir, ledipasvir, rosuvastatin, and bortezomib. The model predicts that of the twelve, saquinavir should bind to Mpro the best. Interestingly, saquinavir has long been used as part of drug cocktails to treat HIV. Although a computer study is limited, saquinavir is worth following up in vitro.
Another team of researchers, Ma et al., used an enzyme assay to screen for drugs that might inhibit the activity of Mpro. Out of a library of known inhibitors, they found that boceprevir inhibited Mpro the most. Formerly, boceprevir was used to treat hepatitis C before more effective protease inhibitors were developed. Boceprevir might find new life now as a treatment for COVID-19, and is worth further study.
Bello M, Martinez-Muñoz A, Balbuena-Rebolledo I. Identification of saquinavir as a potent inhibitor of dimeric SARS-CoV2 main protease through MM/GBSA. Journal of Molecular Modeling. 2020 Nov 12; 26(12):340. PMID: 33184722
Ma C, Sacco MC, Hurst B, et al. Boceprevir, GC-376, and calpain inhibitors II, XII inhibit SARS-CoV2 viral replication by targeting the viral main protease. Cell Research. 2020 Aug; 30(8):678-692. PMID: 32541865