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Sino-European Project on SARS Diagnostics and Antivirals

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Targeting the SARS epidemic

Combating the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic requires improved diagnostics and targeted therapy. Scientists from Europe and China joined forces to study the SARS coronavirus and synthesise antiviral drugs.


SARS reached epidemic proportions in 2003 making the SARS coronavirus a serious health threat worldwide. To prevent another SARS outbreak, sensitive diagnostic methods and effective therapies are urgently required. Blocking viral spreading can only be achieved through understanding of the biology of the coronavirus and designing targeted drugs. With this in mind, the EU-funded ‘Sino-European project on SARS diagnostics and antivirals’ (Sepsda) project aimed to create improved diagnostics and discover compounds that could act as antiviral drugs. Project partners used sequencing and advanced bioinformatics techniques to analyse the genome and proteome of the SARS coronavirus and detect the genetic variability of viral isolates. The 3D structures of many viral proteins were determined by X-ray crystallography and used to virtually screen databases of large compounds – including those of Chinese traditional medicine – for molecules interfering with the interaction or function of the viral proteins. Fifty candidate inhibitors were identified, improved by synthetic chemistry and subjected to further testing. Five of these compounds were prepared for pre-clinical and clinical testing in case of a new SARS outbreak. Combined with the improved diagnostics developed during the Sepsda project, these compounds presented a novel targeting approach against the coronavirus that causes SARS. Overall, the Sepsda project provided novel insight into the biology of the SARS coronavirus and identified potential virus inhibitor compounds. These findings are expected to aid our battle against the SARS epidemic and improve public health worldwide.

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