FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE | September 30, 2020
Small molecule targets SARS-CoV-2 RNA for destruction
SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19, has wreaked havoc on health care systems, economies and everyday lives worldwide. Scientists are fighting back with multiple strategies, including vaccines, repurposed drugs developed for other diseases and brand-new therapies. Now, researchers reporting in ACS Central Science have identified small molecules that target a structure within the RNA genome of SARS-CoV-2, interfering with viral gene expression and targeting the RNA for destruction.
The SARS-CoV-2 RNA genome folds into unique shapes that can potentially be targeted by drugs. One region of the RNA, called the frameshifting element (FSE), contains a hairpin and other structures that help the virus translate its genes into proteins. Matthew Disney, Hafeez Haniff, Yuquan Tong and colleagues wondered if they could identify a small-molecule drug that could bind to the hairpin and prevent it from doing its job. They also wanted to see if they could increase the drug’s potency by adding a component that would attract an RNA-chopping cellular enzyme to destroy the virus’ genome.
The researchers began by conducting microarray experiments to identify small molecules that bind to a specific region of the SARS-CoV-2 FSE hairpin. One molecule, which they named compound 5 (C5), decreased the hairpin’s efficiency in helping the virus translate its genes by about 25% in cell culture experiments, reducing the ability of SARS-CoV-2 to make essential proteins. To enhance the potency of C5, the team attached a molecule (called a ribonuclease-targeting chimera, or RIBOTAC) that recruits a human enzyme that degrades the viral RNA. In cultured cells, RIBOTAC increased the potency of C5 by about 10-fold. Although much more work is needed to develop the RIBOTAC-containing compound into a drug, these findings suggest that the SARS-CoV-2 genome can be targeted by small molecules that disrupt its function, the researchers say.
The authors acknowledge funding from the National Institutes of Health.
The American Chemical Society (ACS) is a nonprofit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. ACS’ mission is to advance the broader chemistry enterprise and its practitioners for the benefit of Earth and its people. The Society is a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related information and research through its multiple research solutions, peer-reviewed journals, scientific conferences, eBooks and weekly news periodical Chemical & Engineering News. ACS journals are among the most cited, most trusted and most read within the scientific literature; however, ACS itself does not conduct chemical research. As a specialist in scientific information solutions (including SciFinder® and STN®), its CAS division powers global research, discovery and innovation. ACS’ main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.