Over the past few weeks, the research group in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, led by Professor Markus Lill, has been working with computer-aided methods to identify possible new drugs to combat the current coronavirus outbreak and similar epidemics in the future. In the process, the researchers have tested, albeit virtually, more than 680 substances on one of the virus’s key proteins: its central protease.
This “virtual screening” has already identified several interesting substances that have the potential to inhibit the virus’s critical enzyme – and thus its further multiplication. “Even if the complete development of a drug to fight this particular coronavirus is likely to exceed the duration of the current epidemic, it is important to develop drugs for future coronaviruses. This will make it possible to nip health crises like this one in the bud in the future,” says Lill.
Test results made public
In light of the current crisis, the group took an unusual decision by immediately making the test results publicly available in the form of an open-source preprint. The publication was consulted more than 3,000 times during the first 48 hours alone.
The Basel researchers hope that a larger number of research groups worldwide will test their proposals on the virus and initiate further trials. Normally, when it comes to drug design, the molecules of interest would be experimentally tested with other groups before the results were patented and published. The main focus of other ongoing coronavirus trials is currently on the usability of existing antiviral drugs or the realignment of other drugs.