UIC, Vanda Pharmaceuticals partner to develop antiviral against COVID-19

Ultrastructural morphology exhibited by the 2019 Novel Coronavirus

The University of Illinois College of Medicine and Vanda Pharmaceuticals are partnering to develop an antiviral drug to fight against SARS-CoV-2.

The project is led by Bellur S. Prabhakar, UIC professor of microbiology and immunology and senior associate dean for research in the College of Medicine. Collaborators include the UICentre for Drug Discovery, led by director Gregory Thatcher, and the High-Throughput Screening Core, led by director Kiira Ratia.

During the virus infection process, the virus attaches to a receptor protein on the cell surface. Then the virus uses a cell enzyme (cathepsin-L) to cut its surface glycoprotein (S protein). The exposed part of S protein fuses with the cell membrane and establishes infection by emptying its genome inside the cell and replicating. The UIC team of scientists will develop inhibitors of SARS-CoV-2 entry into cells to fight against COVID-19.

“We can readily deploy the high-throughput screening we had developed to successfully screen for small molecules that specifically inhibited cathepsin-L mediated cleavage of SARS, Ebola, Hendra and Nipah derived proteins, and entry of pseudotyped virus into cells,” Prabhakar said. “Given the similarity between SARS-CoV and COVID-19, we expect to identify potential drug candidates to treat COVID-19 infection.”

Because these viruses cannot live outside the cell for a long period of time, viral entry into the cell can be readily inactivated by various chemicals and proteins in the extracellular body fluids. A drug is expected to attack the earliest stages of virus infection and protect the host.

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