UC Berkeley researchers, Novartis collaborate to develop antiviral drug to combat coronaviruses

Inhibitor
Elena Zhukova/Courtesy
UC Berkeley College of Chemistry professor and lead researcher on the project Daniel Nomura has previously focused his work on developing drugs to target proteins that drive disease.

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UC Berkeley researchers have teamed up with the pharmaceutical company Novartis in an attempt to develop an antiviral drug for several coronaviruses.

Campus College of Chemistry professor and lead researcher on the project Daniel Nomura has previously focused his work on developing drugs to target proteins that drive disease. Nomura and his team have been applying a similar strategy to help find antiviral drugs that could potentially help combat COVID-19, according to an article that first appeared on the Mark Foundation for Cancer Research website.

“We are developing an inhibitor against a conserved enzyme found in all coronaviruses called Main Protease (Mpro) that is crucial in viral replication,” Nomura said in an email. “Developing an Mpro inhibitor or a small-molecule that blocks Mpro activity across SARS-CoV-2 as well as other coronavirus Mpros would thwart viral replication.”

Nomura and his team hope to eventually create a Mpro inhibitor pill that can be orally ingested to treat COVID-19 or other coronaviruses, he added.

The collaboration between Novartis and Nomura’s team began in March and grew from the shared goal of helping ease the coronavirus outbreak, according to Nomura. Novartis and Nomura have since been creating hundreds of compounds and have already discovered several inhibitors, according to the article.

Nomura has worked with Novartis in the past when he served as the director of the Novartis-Berkeley Center for Proteomics and Chemistry Technologies. Novartis is currently working with Nomura and campus College of Chemistry professor Dean Toste to test inhibitors’ effectiveness against COVID-19 and enhance their potency and metabolic stability, according to the article.

“Our collaborative efforts on COVID-19 between UC Berkeley (my lab and the lab of Professor Dean Toste) and Novartis are focused on developing a pan-coronavirus antiviral therapeutic that can be used to combat not only this SARS-CoV-2 pandemic but also future coronaviruses,” Nomura said in the email.

Even with the potential for a vaccine in the near future, antiviral drugs are still an important part of the fight against COVID-19, Nomura said in the email. Vaccines are unlikely to be completely effective and immunity can weaken over time, according to the article.

By tackling these challenges with their drug discovery research, Nomura and his team have been able to shorten the time frame of approving an effective drug considerably, according to the article.

“Given the global death toll and the disruption pervading daily life, we are committed to continuing the initiative beyond the current crisis,” said Jay Bradner, president of Novartis. “While it may not help the COVID-19 pandemic, we feel responsible to deliver a bespoke coronavirus therapy.”

Audry Jeong is a research and ideas reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @audryjng_dc.