COVID-19 Drug Discovery and Development Why Diverse Strategies Are Critical – Technology Networks

By daniellenierenberg

There is no silver bullet at the moment, and there might never be, said World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom at a virtual press conference at the beginning of August. While it was this bleak sound bite that made the headlines, Tedros also had words of praise for the progress made towards identifying treatments that aid the recovery of COVID-19 patients with the most serious forms of the disease.Research towards treatments for COVID-19 has been developing at a phenomenal speed, even though it feels as though solutions cant come soon enough; the widespread transmission of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has had significant health, economic and social impacts across the globe, and as of September 8th more than 27 million cases and 890,000 deaths have been recorded in 188 countries.

Research groups across the world have set about identifying drugs for the treatment of COVID-19, by screening both novel and existing drugs for their ability to alleviate symptoms and stem viral replication. Here, we provide an update on ongoing global efforts to develop and test drugs for the treatment of COVID-19 and explore the range of strategies being employed.

COVID-19 is a disease which can leave you with anything between a mild sniffle to an unpleasant combination of high fever, heavy fatigue, and lung inflammation and damage. The drivers of clinical symptoms can be roughly divided into two categories: the virus itself and the hyperinflammatory response to the virus that occurs in the most severely ill people. Consequently, efforts to identify appropriate treatments are often focused on one category, and sometimes, a particular patient group or stage of disease. Given the nature of COVID-19, it is highly likely that a combination of drugs (drug cocktail) will be needed to both neutralize the virus and suppress the symptoms of COVID-19. Antiviral treatments may target viral components directly, or other cellular processes involved in viral infection or replication. To date, interventional studies for COVID-19 have attempted to achieve a wide range of goals, including:

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Meet the scientists on the frontline with coronavirus. Video credit: Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute

Of the ~12,000 compounds screened, 100 inhibited SARS-CoV-2 replication in mammalian cells, 21 of which did so in a dose-response fashion. Achieving a sufficiently high dose concentration to elicit antiviral effects in vivo was predicted to be practical and possible for 13 of these compounds based on EC50 values in various cell lines. The most potent of these were evaluated for antiviral activity in human induced pluripotent stems cell (iPSC)-derived pneumocyte-like cells (five candidates) and in an ex vivo lung culture system (one candidate). The latter candidate is called apilimod, a small molecule inhibitor of an enzyme (phosphoinositide 5-kinase or PIKfyve, an endosomal lipid kinase) important to the endocytic pathway in which SARS-CoV-2 travels along during its journey through the cell. Encouragingly, apilimod potently antagonized viral replication in these tissues, and the findings are in agreement with those of another research group. This month, Kang et al. published an article in PNAS, describing the potent inhibition of SARS-CoV-2 by apilimod, providing further evidence to suggest PIKfyve-inhibition as a potential strategy that could limit infection and disease pathogenesis. The authors also noted that apilimod has passed safety tests in previous clinical trials for nonviral indications.

Chanda highlights the incredible pace at which this work was produced. Typically, a project like this would take years, rather than months. He points out that by wanting to do something quickly, there were sacrifices (and not just weekends). For example, they ran with the assay and the cell lines that allowed them to produce results quickly. This is the reason we put the entire dataset out there not one/three/20 molecules, we put all 100 molecules out there. These are the ones we found because of our experimental system, but please keep testing the others because youll probably find other things that work, said Chanda.

To design multiple peptide sequences that can competitively bind to the SARS-CoV-2 receptor binding domain, the University of Michigan research group used a protein design system called EvoDesign.EvoDesign is the first de novo protein design protocol developed in our lab; it performs design simulation by combining the evolution-based information collected from protein databases and an accurate physics- and knowledge-based energy function, namely EvoEF2, for computing atomic interactions such as van der Waals forces, electrostatics, hydrogen bonding, and desolvation energies, said Huang.

Overall, these sophisticated computational tools represent a promising new avenue for the de novo development of drug discovery studies.

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COVID-19 Drug Discovery and Development Why Diverse Strategies Are Critical - Technology Networks

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