Structural basis for repurpose and design of nucleoside drugs for treating COVID-19
Haji A. Aisa,
H. Eric Xu
Posted 02 Nov 2020
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.11.01.363812
Posted 02 Nov 2020
SARS-CoV-2 has caused a global pandemic of COVID-19 that urgently needs an effective treatment. Nucleoside analog drugs including favipiravir have been repurposed for COVID-19 despite of unclear mechanism of their inhibition of the viral RNA polymerase (RdRp). Here we report the cryo-EM structures of the viral RdRp in complex with favipiravir and two other nucleoside inhibitor drugs ribavirin and penciclovir. Ribavirin and the ribosylated form of favipiravir share a similar ribose scaffold that is distinct from penciclovir. However, the structures reveal that all three inhibitors are covalently linked to the primer strand in a monophosphate form despite the different chemical scaffolds between favipiravir and penciclovir. Surprisingly, the base moieties of these inhibitors can form mismatched pairs with the template strand. Moreover, in view of the clinical disadvantages of remdesivir mainly associated with its prodrug form, we designed several orally-available remdesivir parent nucleoside derivatives, including VV16 that showed 5-fold more potent than remdesivir in inhibition of viral replication. Together, these results demonstrate an unexpected promiscuity of the viral RNA polymerase and provide a basis for repurpose and design of nucleotide analog drugs for COVID-19. ### Competing Interest Statement The authors declare no competing interests except that Y.X. and J.S. have filed a patent application on nucleoside derivatives.
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