Researchers have discovered new drug compounds that target a protein which enables the novel coronavirus and other viruses with pandemic potential to replicate in human cells, an advance that may lead to new therapeutics for COVID-19. According to the researchers, including those from the the University of Maryland in the US, these compounds disrupt the functioning of a protein complex inside human cells that are critical for the replication and survival of coronaviruses, including the one that causes COVID-19.
The scientists believe the findings, published in the journal PNAS, could lead to the development of new broad-spectrum antiviral drugs that target viruses such as influenza, Ebola and coronaviruses like SARS-CoV-2.
They said the compounds can disrupt the SKI protein complex in the human body which regulates various aspects of the functioning of a cell.
In the current study, the researchers discovered that this complex also plays a crucial role in helping a virus replicate its genetic material, RNA, within the cells it infects.
"We determined that disrupting the SKI complex keeps the virus from copying itself, which essentially destroys it," said study co-author Matthew Frieman from the University of Maryland.
"We also identified compounds that targeted the SKI complex, not only inhibiting coronaviruses but also influenza viruses and filoviruses, such as the one that causes Ebola," Frieman said.
Using computer modelling, the researchers identified a binding site on the SKI complex and identified chemical compounds that could attach to this site.
From further experimental analysis, they showed that these compounds have antiviral activity against coronaviruses, influenza viruses, and filoviruses such as Ebola.
"These findings present an important first step in identifying potential new antivirals that could be used to treat a broad number of deadly infectious diseases," said study lead author Stuart Weston, also from the University of Maryland.
Such drugs have the potential to treat infectious disease associated with future pandemics, the scientists added.