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Bronchitis medicine shows promise as COVID-19 medicament

After having virtually screened 640 existing medicinal products, researchers from Uppsala University and SDU found that the substance PC786 actively hits several SARS-CoV-2 receptors and thus turns out to be a candidate in the fight against COVID-19. The medicine clearly stands out from the others. The screening method can be used to find other promising candidates.

With Uppsala University taking the lead, a group of researchers, including Yogendra Kumar Mishra from the Mads Clausen Institute (MCI) at SDU, screened existing medicinal products which were developed to fight for example MERS-CoV, SARS-CoV, Ebola or HIV to see if these could be a weapon in the fight against COVID-19. And it shows that the substance PC786, which can be found in bronchitis medicine, hits several SARS-CoV-2 receptors and thus clearly stands out from the other tested substances.

What tips the scales is PC786’s ability to bind to the surface proteins of the corona virus called Spike (S) that are visible as a crown or nimbus similar to the sun’s corona and that gave the corona virus its name.

”We take the basic structure of the medicine and the virus protein and see how they interact. PC786 is the medicine with the highest possible effect against corona according to the simulations we made”, says professor Yogendra Kumar Mishra.

PC786 is used in bronchitis medicine. It is used actively in the fight against respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) which is a virus that presumably is the most common cause for acute bronchitis in small children and which can turn into pneumonia at a later stage.

Promising method

Together with his research colleagues, PhD student Pritam Kumar Panda from Uppsala University has screened the many medicinal products by using the open source programme AutoDock Vina to find the substance that best binds to the S-protein. Subsequently, the researchers used another two programmes, UCSF Chimera and Discovery Studio Visualizer, to analyse the molecular interactions.

”This is an excellent example of a new kind of materials research – digital materials research – which we will keep focusing on in the future”, says Horst-Günter Rubahn, director of the Mads Clausen Institute.

Can be used to develop new medicine and vaccines

The research group concludes that the method not only can be used to screen existing medicine but also to develop new medicinal products and protein-based COVID-19 vaccines. By using this method, the number of necessary experiments will decrease while the reliability and hit-rate will increase. Namely because modelling medicaments’ interaction with the COVID-19 virus makes it easier for the researchers to identify potential vaccine candidates.

The research project’s conclusions have been published in the scientific journal Science Advances.