Natural substances show promise against coronavirus

X-ray screening identifies compounds blocking a major corona enzyme

Three natural compounds present in foods like green tea, olive oil and red wine are promising candidates for the development of drugs against the coronavirus. In a comprehensive screening of a large library of natural substances at DESY’s X-ray source PETRA III the compounds bound to a central enzyme vital for the replication of the coronavirus. All three compounds are already used as active substances in existing drugs, as the team headed by Christian Betzel from the University of Hamburg and Alke Meents from DESY reports in the journal Communications Biology. However, if and when a corona drug can be developed on the basis of these compounds remains to be investigated.

“We tested 500 substances from the Karachi Library of Natural Compounds if they bind to the papain-like protease of the novel coronavirus, which is one of the main targets for an antiviral drug,” explains the study’s main author Vasundara Srinivasan from the University of Hamburg. “A compound that binds to the enzyme at the right place can stop it from working.”

The papain-like protease (PLpro) is a vital enzyme for virus replication: When a cell is hijacked by the coronavirus, it is forced to produce building blocks for new virus particles. These proteins are manufactured as a long string. PLpro then acts like a molecular pair of scissors, cutting the proteins from the string. If this process is blocked, the proteins cannot assemble new virus particles.

Read more on the DESY website

Image: The paper’s main author Vasundara Srinivasan at an X-ray set-up to test protein crystals in the lab.

Credit: University of Hamburg, Susanna Gevorgyan