Research team identifies potential drug target in virus causing COVID-19


Courtesy of Northwestern Now

Nsp15, the newly mapped COVID-19 protein that aids in the virus’s replication.

Isabelle Sarraf, Assistant Campus Editor

COVID-19 News

A team of scientists, including researchers from Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine, have identified a potential drug target in a newly mapped protein of the virus that causes COVID-19, also known as the novel coronavirus.

This protein, called Nsp15, helps COVID-19 replicate. The findings suggest that drugs previously in development to treat Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome could now be used to combat the novel coronavirus, according to a Monday release.

The inhibition of this protein by the drug can slow viral replication, which is why the drugs designed to target Nsp15 can be developed into effective treatment against COVID-19. The international team of scientists, led by NU microbiology-immunology Prof. Karla Satchell, is probing the structure of the virus and trying to stop it from replicating.

“The newly mapped protein, called Nsp15, is conserved among coronaviruses and is essential in their lifecycle and virulence. Initially, Nsp15 was thought to directly participate in viral replication, but more recently, it was proposed to help the virus replicate possibly by interfering with the host’s immune response,” said Andrzej Joachimiak, a University of Chicago professor and member of the research team.

By mapping a 3D protein structure of the virus, the scientists will be able to determine how to interfere with the replication of the pathogen. The investigation of the Nsp15 protein in the past was short lived because of the SARS epidemic naturally fading out, the release said.

COVID-19 has killed almost three times as many people in eight weeks than the SARS virus did in eight months, according to Business Insider. The research team is investigating how this virus has become more contagious compared to the SARS and MERS coronaviruses by mapping the Nsp15 proteins.

“While (COVID-19) 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 at the University of California’s Riverside School of Medicine and contributing researcher.

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