Scientists discover new coronavirus drug target from proteins that let virus hide from immune system

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Currently, there is no known cure for the coronavirus pandemic ravaging the globe, but researchers have identified a potential new drug target, mapping two critical proteins, as the world looks for a cure for COVID-19.

Scientists from Northwestern University mapped the atomic structure of two critical proteins in a complex, nsp10 and nsp16, according to a statement from Argonne National Laboratory, which helped collect the data.

The researchers noted the proteins modify the genetic material of the virus so it looks more like human RNA, allowing the virus to multiply and potentially give time for the immune system to find the virus and remove it, once a drug is developed.


“This is a really beautiful target, because it’s a protein absolutely essential for the virus to replicate,” said lead investigator Karla Satchell in the statement.

The nsp10/nsp16 protein is made up of two proteins tied together, which makes it "more difficult to work with," according to the statement. With the two proteins tied together, it can be a functional protein, according to previous research done on another acute respiratory disease, SARS.

The new protein will be sent to Purdue University, where it will be screened for work that could be used to develop drugs to aid patients. However, researchers believe multiple drugs will be needed to treat COVID-19, Satchell added.

“We need multiple drugs to treat this virus, because this disease is likely to be with us for a long time,” Satchell added. ​“It’s not good enough for us to develop a single drug. If COVID-19 develops a resistance to one drug, then we need others.”

As of Tuesday morning, at least 809,000 coronavirus cases have been diagnosed worldwide, 165,875 of which are in the U.S. The disease has accounted for at least 38,000 deaths around the world, including 3,200 people in the U.S.