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Inhibition of SARS-CoV-2 infection (previously 2019-nCoV) by a highly potent pan-coronavirus fusion inhibitor targeting its spike protein that harbors a high capacity to mediate membrane fusion

By Shuai Xia, Meiqin Liu, Chao Wang, Wei Xu, Qiaoshuai Lan, Siliang Feng, Feifei Qi, Linlin Bao, Lanying Du, Shuwen Liu, Chuan Qin, Fei Sun, Zhengli Shi, Yun Zhu, Shibo Jiang, Lu Lu

Posted 12 Mar 2020
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.03.09.983247 (published DOI: 10.1038/s41422-020-0305-x)

The recent outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) caused by SARS-CoV-2 infection in Wuhan, China has posed a serious threat to global public health. To develop specific anti-coronavirus therapeutics and prophylactics, the molecular mechanism that underlies viral infection must first be confirmed. Therefore, we herein used a SARS-CoV-2 spike (S) protein-mediated cell-cell fusion assay and found that SARS-CoV-2 showed plasma membrane fusion capacity superior to that of SARS-CoV. We solved the X-ray crystal structure of six-helical bundle (6-HB) core of the HR1 and HR2 domains in SARS-CoV-2 S protein S2 subunit, revealing that several mutated amino acid residues in the HR1 domain may be associated with enhanced interactions with HR2 domain. We previously developed a pan-coronavirus fusion inhibitor, EK1, which targeted HR1 domain and could inhibit infection by divergent human coronaviruses tested, including SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV. We then generated a series of lipopeptides and found that the EK1C4 was the most potent fusion inhibitor against SARS-CoV-2 S protein-mediated membrane fusion and pseudovirus infection with IC50s of 1.3 and 15.8 nM, about 241- and 149-fold more potent than that of EK1 peptide, respectively. EK1C4 was also highly effective against membrane fusion and infection of other human coronavirus pseudoviruses tested, including SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV, as well as SARSr-CoVs, potently inhibiting replication of 4 live human coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-2. Intranasal application of EK1C4 before or after challenge with HCoV-OC43 protected mice from infection, suggesting that EK1C4 could be used for prevention and treatment of infection by currently circulating SARS-CoV-2 and emerging SARSr-CoVs.

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