Promising path found for COVID-19 therapeutics

A team of researchers at the University of Georgia has successfully demonstrated that a set of drug-like small molecules can block the activity of a key SARS-CoV-2 protein—providing a promising path for new COVID-19 therapeutics.

Led by Scott Pegan, director of UGA’s Center for Drug Discovery, the team was the first to evaluate the SARS-CoV-2 protein PLpro, known to be essential in other coronaviruses for both its replication and its ability to suppress host immune function.

“The PLpro from SARS-CoV-2 behaved differently than its predecessor that caused the SARS outbreak in 2003. Specifically, our data suggests that the SARS-CoV-2 PLpro is less effective at its immune suppression roles,” said Pegan, professor of pharmaceutical and biomedical sciences in the College of Pharmacy. “This may be one of the underlying reasons why the current virus is not as fatal as the virus from the 2003 outbreak.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected more lives globally than the SARS outbreak of 2002-03, but its mortality rate is lower based on available numbers in early June. After the SARS outbreak, the World Health Organization reported 8,098 cases and 774 deaths—a mortality rate of nearly 10%. According to Johns Hopkins University’s COVID-19 dashboard on June 3, there were 6,435,453 confirmed cases globally and 382,093 deaths—a mortality rate of nearly 6%.

From an evolutionary standpoint, it’s not good for a virus to be fatal for the host, and SARS in 2003 was particularly lethal, according to Pegan.

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