Professor Marcin Drąg from the Wrocław University of Technology has been working to develop an enzyme that could be key to defeating the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. The professor cites that if we would compare the enzyme to a lock, we have acquired a key to it. Of the millions of possible combinations, the correct matching one has now been identified.

For several years we have been cooperating with the group of prof. Rolf Hilgenfeld from Lübeck University in Germany. The professor had a huge impact on defeating the previous SARS epidemic – points out prof. Drąg. He adds that chemists or companies can now use this information to develop diagnostic tests that would allow them to determine if someone has coronavirus.

The team of Wrocław researchers has already made their results available to scientists from around. Research conducted by the scientists from Wrocław is also becoming the basis for the search for a drug for COVID-19. The enzyme related to the syndrome that was studied concerning SARS-CoV-2 protease, protects proteins that are in this virus. – It enables it to survive. Inhibition of this enzyme immediately causes this virus to die – explains the scientist. – If we were to develop a drug that would inhibit this enzyme we practically kill the coronavirus. This is known from the previous SARS coronavirus epidemics– says the scientist.

– At the beginning of February this year, as soon as prof. Hilgenfeld obtained the enzyme – SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus protease – he brought it to me in Wroclaw. Then we began to study it very carefully – says the scientist. He adds that the protease of the current SARS-Cov2 virus is very similar to the SARS-CoV protease (from 2002).

Scientists have shared the results with the whole world

He explains that it is a unique enzyme (“recognizes glutamine at the P1 position”). – In humans, there are practically no such enzymes – assures the researcher. Therefore, it can be expected that if drugs that destroy this enzyme are developed, they will harm the virus, but not humans. And this means that they will be less toxic.

The research team’s results are still officially under review, but they have already made their results available to scientists from around the world for free. – We didn’t patent it. The publication preprint is available online. – This is a gift from my laboratory for anyone interested – emphasizes the scientist. And he adds that a few days after publication there is no shortage of interested parties. Teams from various parts of the world come forward with questions and proposals for cooperation.

– What we have now published – is some of the most important information you can have about this enzyme. These studies show which amino acids the enzyme can bind to in key positions. – We can say whether they are large, small, hydrophobic or basic amino acids. We can also create a map of the most important place of this enzyme and match to it even drugs that are already on the market – says the scientist. He adds that chemists or companies can now use these tests to create new bioactive compounds for the SARS-CoV2 virus, and even companies to develop diagnostic tests that would allow faster determination of whether someone has coronavirus.

– We are currently targeting other proteins from this virus, not just proteases. The pace of work is amazing – says prof. Drąg. The researchers from Wrocław were able to do their research so quickly thanks to the fact that prof. Drąg had previously developed a new technology platform enabling the production of biologically active compounds, in particular inhibitors of proteolytic enzymes.

His Hybrid Combinatorial Substrate Library (HyCoSuL) allows him to design and receive highly active and selective chemical tools. The technology platform uses a wide range of amino acids (which are not found in nature) to monitor the activity of proteolytic enzymes. It can be used to develop new therapies, medicines or diagnostic methods. He was recognized for this research in 2019 with the Award of the Foundation for Polish Science.



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