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Computational screens identify possible drug candidates to treat Covid-19

The human protein TMPRSS2 is necessary for attachment and infection of human cells by Coronaviruses. Using artificial intelligence to carry out computational screens, the Altman lab identified several drugs, including two that are on the market today, which should be further evaluated for their potential therapeutic benefits against this target.

Specifically, they discovered that a particular anticoagulant -- nafomastat -- was a promising hit. Nafomastat is noteworthy since it also was highlighted as a potential candidate in a screen for MERS in 2016. Nafomastat is a blood thinner used to treat pancreatitis and kidney disease. It functions as an enzyme inhibitor that prevents blood clots. This mechanism could potentially suppress a protein that the virus needs to enter human cells.

Clinical trials as a potential therapy for coronavirus patients are set to possibly begin in Japan within a month, according to researchers at the University of Tokyo. Importantly, the work of the Japanese scientists independently validated the Altman group’s computational approach, which also identified at least 2 other high-scoring drug candidates.

Two experimental groups are currently carrying out testing on these drugs to determine if they inhibit viral entry into human cells.

Relevant Publications or More Information

Collaborators:

 Russ Altman (Bioengineering, The Helix Group)