Intensive hunt for drugs to fight COVID-19
The entire world is currently waiting for a vaccine against COVID-19. Intensive research is ongoing to develop useful drugs against the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. At Uppsala Biomedical Centre (BMC), substances are being tested that attack the same type of enzyme as drugs against HIV and hepatitis C.
“We want to develop antiviral drugs that focus on different targets in the virus. We will need several effective drugs, and they should preferably be administered easily in tablet form, not intravenously like the drug Remdesivir,” says Johan Lennerstrand, docent in clinical microbiology at the Department of Medical Sciences.
His research team is focusing on producing substances that can inhibit a unique enzyme, the “main protease”, which is found in the virus but not in human cells.
“Such protease inhibitors have successfully been developed to treat HIV and hepatitis C in the past,” says Lennerstrand, who has been researching drugs for HIV for twenty years and about drugs for hepatitis C for the past ten years.
With the help of research colleagues in Oxford and at Karolinska Institutet (KI), they have gained access to the SARS-CoV-2 protease in its pure form. Their research is initially being conducted at SciLifeLab’s Drug Discovery and Development platform, where they can utilize computer-based virtual screening combined with SciLifeLab’s extremely large substance library.
“These substances are DNA-labelled and act like small Lego pieces. Binding two or three Lego pieces can result in billions of different variations, depending on the size of the library of substances. This is a unique tool, usually only available at large pharmaceutical companies. But now we have access to it, thanks to SciLifeLab.”