Existing drugs can prevent SARS-CoV-2 from hijacking cells


An worldwide workforce of researchers has analysed how SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, hijacks the proteins in its goal cells. The research, published in the journal Cell, reveals how the virus shifts the cell’s exercise to advertise its personal replication and to contaminate close by cells. The scientists additionally recognized seven clinically authorized drugs that would disrupt these mechanisms, and suggest that these drugs are instantly examined in scientific trials.

The collaboration included researchers at EMBL’s European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI), the Quantitative Biosciences Institute’s Coronavirus Research Group within the School of Pharmacy at University of California San Francisco (UCSF), the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Institut Pasteur, and the Excellence Cluster CIBSS of the University of Freiburg.

Viruses are unable to duplicate and unfold on their very own: they want an organism – their host – to hold, replicate, and transmit them to additional hosts. To facilitate this course of, viruses must take management of their host cell’s equipment and manipulate it to supply new viral particles. Sometimes, this hijacking interferes with the exercise of the host’s enzymes and different proteins.

Once a protein is produced, enzymes can change its exercise by making chemical modifications to its construction. For instance, phosphorylation – the addition of a phosphoryl group to a protein by a sort of enzyme referred to as a kinase – performs a pivotal function within the regulation of many cell processes, together with cell-to-cell communication, cell development, and cell demise. By altering phosphorylation patterns within the host’s proteins, a virus can probably promote its personal transmission to different cells and, finally, different hosts.

The scientists used mass spectrometry, a device to analyse the properties of a pattern by measuring the mass of its molecules and molecular fragments, to guage all host and viral proteins that confirmed modifications in phosphorylation after SARS-CoV-2 an infection. They discovered that 12% of the host proteins that work together with the virus have been modified. The researchers additionally recognized the kinases which might be almost definitely to manage these modifications. Kinases are potential targets for drugs to cease the exercise of the virus and deal with COVID-19.

The extraordinary behaviour of contaminated cells

“The virus prevents human cells from dividing, maintaining them at a particular point in the cell cycle. This provides the virus with a relatively stable and adequate environment to keep replicating,” explains Pedro Beltrao, Group Leader at EMBL-EBI.

SARS-CoV-2 not solely impacts cell division, but additionally cell form. One of the important thing findings from the research is that contaminated cells exhibit lengthy, branched, arm-like extensions, or filopodia. These buildings could assist the virus attain close by cells within the physique and advance the an infection, however additional research is warranted.

“The distinct visualisation of the extensive branching of the filopodia once again elucidates how understanding the biology of virus–host interaction can illuminate possible points of intervention in the disease,” says Nevan Krogan, Director of the Quantitative Biosciences Institute at UCSF and Senior Investigator at Gladstone Institutes.

Old drugs, new remedies

“Kinases possess certain structural features that make them good drug targets. Drugs have already been developed to target some of the kinases we identified, so we urge clinical researchers to test the antiviral effects of these drugs in their trials,” says Beltrao.

In some sufferers, COVID-19 causes an overreaction of the immune system, resulting in irritation. An ultimate remedy would relieve these exaggerated inflammatory signs whereas stopping the replication of the virus. Existing drugs concentrating on the exercise of kinases will be the resolution to each issues.

The researchers recognized dozens of drugs authorized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or ongoing scientific trials that focus on the kinases of curiosity. Seven of those compounds, primarily anticancer and inflammatory illness compounds, demonstrated potent antiviral exercise in laboratory experiments.

“Our data-driven approach for drug discovery has identified a new set of drugs that have great potential to fight COVID-19, either by themselves or in combination with other drugs, and we are excited to see if they will help end this pandemic,” says Krogan.

“We expect to build upon this work by testing many other kinase inhibitors while identifying both the underlying pathways and additional potential therapeutics that may intervene in COVID-19 effectively,” says Kevan Shokat, Professor within the Department of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology at UCSF.