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Hit-to-Lead Development of potent broad-spectrum coronavirus fusion inhibitors

Project description

Novel coronavirus drugs

Being able to prevent infection and transmission of SARS-CoV-2 emerged as a key priority during the pandemic. As such, novel antiviral drugs are necessary that prevent attachment of virions onto cells through their spike proteins. The Inhibicov project is funded by the European Research Council and capitalises on the previous identification of small molecule inhibitors that can potentially act against all coronaviruses. During the project, researchers will take two of the most promising inhibitors and develop them further into clinical antiviral drugs. Administration of these drugs is expected to reduce hospitalisations and mortality in infected patients, safeguarding populations against future coronavirus outbreaks.


The Covid-19 pandemic emphasized the urgent need for efficient broad-spectrum antiviral drugs against potential future coronaviruses (CoV) strains that may cause the next COVID pandemic. A critical stage during infection is the fusion of the viral envelope with the host-cell membrane, which depends on the conserved S2 domain of the viral Spike (S) protein. Hence, targeting the S2 domain is a promising approach to achieving pan-CoV inhibition. Since MERS- and SARS- S proteins bind to different cellsurface receptors through the rapidly diversifying S1 domain, we reasoned that compounds that inhibit both must target the S2 domain. We developed and performed a robust fluorescence-based high-throughput screen of 173,227 unique compounds and classified them based on their ability to inhibit infection of pseudoviruses bearing either MERS or SARS-2 S proteins at single-cell resolution. To our knowledge, this is the largest screen performed to date. This analysis identified several potent broad-spectrum small molecules that inhibit S protein mediated infection at sub-micromolar concentrations. Moreover, the compounds we discovered obey Lipinski's rule of five, indicating that they can potentially become drugs to prevent viral transmission.
This project aims to develop two of the most promising broad-spectrum CoV small molecule inhibitors to create more clinically ready compounds with up to 100% inhibition activity that could be administered orally to reduce hospitalizations, prevent chronic effects, and reduce mortality. The technical work in the project is focused on lead optimization leading towards broad-spectrum antiviral drugs against future outbreaks of bat-borne viruses. The project also comprises pre-commercialization activities, where IP protection and commercialization planning are the core activities. Eventually, we will expect our developed compound(s) to boost the market for antiviral therapies for bat-borne viruses.


Net EU contribution
€ 150 000,00
Herzl street 234
7610001 Rehovot

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Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Other funding
€ 0,00