Scientists at Case Western Reserve, Duke and Rutgers universities studying the coronavirus genome have identified compounds within it that have the potential to block its ability to replicate, according to a news release.
The researchers — whose findings were published Friday, Nov. 26, in the journal Science Advances — note that the discovery could lead to treatments for other future viruses.
"We reasoned that the unique shape of the virus's RNA genome presented an opportunity to target it with small molecules that might hold potential to slow the virus's ability to spread, and the early results are encouraging," Blanton S. Tolbert, the Rudolph and Susan Rense Professor of Chemistry at CWRU and one of the researchers leading the project, said in a provided statement.
The work offers an untapped therapeutic potential to fight COVID-19, Amanda Hargrove, a chemistry professor at Duke University, said in the release.
Tolbert and Hargrove are joined by Rutgers molecular biologist and virologist Gary Brewer and Rutgers molecular biologist Mei-Ling Li, as well as other collaborators and researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the University of Michigan and the University of Glasgow, according to the release.
"These are the first molecules with antiviral activity that target the virus's RNA specifically, so it's a totally new mechanism in that sense," Hargrove said in a provided statement.
The collaboration began at an informal February 2020 meeting among the three main research groups from CWRU, Duke and Rutgers at Duke University, Tolbert said in the release.
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"We laid out the first steps to inhibit SARS-CoV-2 because the group anticipated that the virus might become a bigger public health concern than it was initially perceived," he said.
Other CWRU researchers who were involved were from Tolbert's lab, according to the release: post-doctoral student Le Luo; and graduate students Christina Haddad, Jesse Davila-Calderon and Liang Yuan-Chiu, who has since graduated.
The work builds upon research that Hargrove, Tolbert and others first conducted in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic began to take hold, according to the release, which notes the team was already investigating potential drug candidates to fight Enterovirus 71, another RNA virus and a common cause of hand, foot and mouth disease in children.
The researchers, who have a patent pending on their method, plan to modify the compounds to make them more potent, and then conduct animal testing "to see if this could be a viable drug candidate," Hargrove said in the release.
This story first appeared in our sister publication, Crain's Cleveland Business.