Since the outbreak of the novel COVID-19 pandemic, the world has been eagerly waiting for its cure. However, the experts believe that an effective vaccine will take 12-18 months in its development.
Hence providing business opportunity to pharmaceutical companies, WHO and various governments are funding the researchers for the development of vaccine. Although, many claims have been made regarding the successful invention of the vaccine by various companies, but till now, no such effective remedy exists. Consequently, the race for development of vaccine continues.
But now, 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.
But at the same time, if china wins the race for vaccine development, it is expected that conspiracy theories against china will also get strengthened.
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.
These proteins belong to four main classes, relating to the envelope (E) and membrane (M), spike (S) proteins and the nucleocapsid (N). The production of these viral proteins occurs with the help of a specialized enzyme called a protease.
This enzyme is an ideal target for a drug as it plays a vital role in the life cycle of the virus, helping it replicate. In other words, the virus cannot live without it.
Scientists created two lead compounds, 11a and 11b, that will target protease. compounds are good inhibitors of the enzyme, and achieved 100% and 96% inhibition activity, respectively. The scientists went on to monitor the antiviral activity of the compounds using infected cells, and again, both drugs showed good anti-infection activity. They used mice to investigate the pharmacokinetic. Both compounds showed good pharmacokinetic properties, suggesting that they could both be promising drug candidates.
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.
According to the reported results, this is a highly promising compound. What is more, because there is no human equivalent to the enzyme that it targets, the drug is unlikely to cause serious side effects in people.
The researchers say that preclinical research on the compound is continuing. They are also sharing their data with scientists around the world to help accelerate the development of the treatment.