CHICAGO, March 2 (Xinhua) -- A potential drug target has been identified in a newly mapped protein of the novel coronavirus, a U.S. university said on Monday.
The newly mapped protein is called Nsp15. It is conserved among coronaviruses and is essential in their lifecycle and virulence, Andrzej Joachimiak, a professor at the University of Chicago, said in a Northwestern University news release on Monday.
After mapping a 3D protein structure of Nsp15 from the novel coronavirus, researchers from several U.S. universities found that drugs that had previously been developed to treat the earlier SARS outbreak could now be developed as effective drugs against COVID-19, as studies published in 2010 on SARS coronavirus revealed that inhibition of Nsp15 can slow viral replication.
"The Nsp15 protein has been investigated in SARS as a novel target for new drug development, but that never went very far because the SARS epidemic went away, and all new drug development ended. Some inhibitors were identified but never developed into drugs. The inhibitors that were developed for SARS now could be tested against this protein," said Karla Satchell, professor of microbiology-immunology at the NU.
The Nsp15 protein was initially thought to directly participate in viral replication, but more recently, the protein was proposed to help the virus replicate possibly by interfering with the host's immune response, Joachimiak said.
Rapid upsurge and proliferation of the novel coronavirus, or SARS-CoV-2, also raised questions about how this virus could become far more transmissible as compared to the SARS and MERS coronaviruses.
"While the SARS-CoV-2 is very similar to the SARS virus that caused epidemics in 2003, new structures shed light on the small, but potentially important differences between the two viruses that contribute to the different patterns in the spread and severity of the diseases they cause," said Adam Godzik, a professor of biomedical sciences in the School of Medicine, the University of California Riverside.
The structure of Nsp15 will be released on Wednesday in the Research Collaboratory for Structural Bioinformatics Protein Data Bank, which operates the U.S. data center for the global protein data bank archive.