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Computer Model Shows Existing Drug Hobbles COVID

capsules on table with COVID-19 sign
Vikentiy Elizarov/Shutterstock

While there has been a lot of controversy over using the existing drug hydroxychloroquine to fight the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the search for current pharmaceuticals to help fight the bug is still being conducted on a global scale. Now, research shows that bipolar drug Ebselen might help.

Miracle Drug?

Initially invented and subsequently abandoned as a treatment for stroke in 2012, Ebselen has not only been used to treat bipolar disorder, but it’s been shown effective in treating hearing loss. It’s also been studied for its anti-viral, cell-protecting, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties as well. On top of that, it is incredibly effective at destroying an enzyme known as Mpro, which allows the coronavirus to reproduce inside human cells. 

So when molecular engineers at the University of Chicago ran cutting edge computer simulations to determine which existing drugs might help in the battle against COVID-19, it’s not surprising that Ebselen popped up.

“In addition to binding at the catalytic site of the enzyme, Ebselen also binds strongly to a distant site, which interferes with the enzyme’s catalytic function by relying on a mechanism in which information is carried from one region of a large molecule to another region far away from it through subtle structural reorganizations,” said Professor Juan de Pablo.

In short, the drug prevents the virus from transcribing its RNA both at the site that produces Mpro and at its destination site.

New Attack Plan

The research team says that the finding offers a new point of attack in the battle against SARS-CoV-2, as it has revealed a new vulnerability in the virus. They plan to look for more ways in which other drugs may work along the same pathways, as well as continuing a more detailed analysis of the potential efficacy of Ebselen.

“The main protease is one of many proteins in the virus that could be targeted with existing, repurposed drugs, and there are thousands of compounds to be considered,” de Pablo said. “We are systematically investigating each of the proteins involved in the virus function and investigating their vulnerabilities and their responses to a wide range of drugs.”

The research has been published in the peer-reviewed journal, Science Advances.