Wichita State chemist identifies potential COVID-19 treatment

  • Wichita State University medical chemist Dr. Bill Groutas is part of a multi-university team to research treatments for COVID-19.
  • The study was published in the Aug. 3, 2020 issue of Science Translational Medicine.
  • The study reveals how molecule protease inhibitors show potency against human coronaviruses.

Dr. Bill Groutas, Wichita State University medical chemist, is part of a team that has published a study showing a possible therapeutic treatment for COVID-19.

Photo of Dr. Bill Groutas

Dr. Bill Groutas

Pathogenic coronaviruses are a major threat to global public health, as shown by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus, or SARS-CoV; Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, known as MERS-CoV; and the newly emerged SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 infection.

Groutas — along with Kansas State University virologists Yunjeong Kim and Kyeong-Ok "KC" Chang — published the study — titled “3C-like protease inhibitors block SARS-CoV-2 replication in vitro and increase survival in MERS-CoV-infected mice”— which appears in the Aug. 3 issue of the prestigious medical journal Science Translational Medicine. It reveals how small molecule protease inhibitors show potency against human coronaviruses. These coronavirus 3C-like proteases, known as 3CLpro, are strong therapeutic targets because they play vital roles in coronavirus replication.

"Vaccine developments and treatments are the biggest targets in COVID-19 research, and treatment is really key," said Chang, professor of diagnostic medicine and pathobiology. "This paper describes a protease inhibitor targeted by a viral protease, which is a well-known therapeutic target."

Chang and Kim have been using National Institutes of Health grants to develop antiviral drugs to treat MERS and human norovirus infections. Their work extends to other human viruses, such as rhinoviruses and SARS-CoV-2.

The study demonstrates that this series of optimized coronavirus 3CLpro inhibitors blocked replication of the human coronaviruses MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2 in cultured cells and in a mouse model for MERS. These findings suggest that this series of compounds should be investigated further as a potential therapeutic for human coronavirus infection.

Co-collaborators on the research include teams lead by Bill Groutas at Wichita State University and Stanley Perlman at the University of Iowa, and Scott Lovell at the University of Kansas.

"Drs. Groutas, Perlman and Lovell brought decades of experience to our research team," Chang said. "We would not have been able to come this far without important collaborations with our colleagues at other institutions."

“Our studies have demonstrated proof-of-concept, and we are excited about our partnership with CoCrystal Pharma to explore the development of this series of compounds as COVID-19 therapeutics,” Groutas said.

The new compounds in the publication are exclusively licensed and being developed Cocrystal Pharma for COVID-19.

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