New drug target to treat coronavirus, fight future pandemic found
Scientists have identified a novel target for a drug that can treat SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, and also help tackle a future coronavirus pandemic. The researchers at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in the US noted that scientists should prepare for a possible next coronavirus pandemic. The team previously mapped the structure of a virus protein called nsp16 that's present in all coronaviruses.
Great need for new approaches to drug discovery: Professor
"God forbid we need this, but we will be ready," said Karla Satchell, professor of microbiology-immunology, Feinberg School of Medicine. The latest study, published in the journal Science Signaling, provides critical information that could aid drug development against future coronaviruses and SARS-CoV-2. "There is great need for new approaches to drug discovery to combat the SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 pandemic and infections from future coronaviruses," Satchell said.
Future drug would work early in the infection
The idea behind the future drug to treat COVID-19 would be that it works in the early phase of the infection. "If somebody around you gets the coronavirus, you would run to the drugstore to get your medication and take it for three or four days. If you were sick, you wouldn't get as sick," Satchell explained.
Researchers found a coronavirus-specific pocket in the nsp16 protein
The researchers mapped three new protein structures in three-dimensional views and discovered a secret identifier in the machinery that helps the virus hide from the immune system. They found a coronavirus-specific pocket in the protein nsp16 that binds the virus-genomic fragment held in place by a metal ion. The fragment is used by the coronavirus as the template for all the viral building blocks.
Such a drug would only target invader protein: Researchers
There is potential to make a drug to fit this unique pocket that would block the function of this protein, said researchers. Notably, it wouldn't block a similar protein's function from human cells that lack the pocket. This drug would only target the invader protein.
Team collaborating with chemists to design drugs against the protein
Nsp16 is considered one of the key viral proteins that could be inhibited by drugs to stop the virus shortly after someone gets exposed. The goal, researchers said, is to stop the virus early before people get too sick. Researchers worked to generate key information about this protein and are collaborating with chemists who will use the information to design drugs against the protein.
The unique pocket is present in all different coronavirus members.
The researchers noted that nsp16 is nearly the same across most of the coronaviruses. The unique pocket discovered by the team is present in all the different coronavirus members. It should also work against the common cold that is caused by a coronavirus, they said.