Scientists Stopped SARS Virus from Reproducing

Harmless bright spot, but also a
deadly pathogen: a corona virus
causing SARS; © BNI Hamburg

“We were systematically looking for molecules to prevent the corona virus from reproducing itself”, says Prof. Jörg Rademann. He heads the group “Medical Chemistry” at the Leibniz Institute of Molecular Pharmacology (FMP) in Berlin. “We hope that our research can help to produce suitable drugs against such viruses in a short time, especially in the case of a new epidemic,” he adds.

The main protease proved to be a good starting-point for the researchers: The group of Prof. Rolf Hilgenfeld at the University of Lübeck provided the protein and solved its structure. The viral enzyme cuts long protein molecules manufactured by the virus in the host cell into small pieces. The main protease is essential for the reproduction of all corona viruses and it has an almost identical structure in all of these pathogens. Thus, once a substance that attacks the main protease is found, scientists would have a wide range of possibilities to fight different corona viruses.

Rademann and his team, together with colleagues, have synthesised for the first time molecules that attach themselves to the main protease without being chemically reactive. Most importantly, this process is reversible, thus minimising side-effects of potential drugs. The researchers presented a collection of substances that resemble the natural substrate of the main protease. Even if it is still a long way from such a collection to suitable drugs, the newly synthesised peptide aldehydes mark an important step towards a therapy for SARS.

The next goal is to identify the most effective peptide aldehydes out of the collection and then to further optimise the substance. “If we are successful, the next outbreak of SARS will pose a much smaller threat to public-health and we will not be helpless”, says Rademann.; Source: Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V. (FVB)