Scientists chart weak spots in coronavirus protein

Coronavirus protein structure
A cryo-EM map of a portion of the novel coronavirus’ protein structure shows several substructures, including a hairpin-shaped protein that hadn’t been identified previously. (Gao et al. / Science / AAAS)

Chinese researchers say they’ve mapped out a key protein structure in the virus that causes COVID-19, including the likeliest target for the antiviral drug remdesivir.

What’s more, they say that same atomic-scale target, known as nsp12, could be attacked by other types of antiviral drugs.

“This target … could support the development of a cocktail of anti-coronavirus treatments that potentially can be used for the discovery of broad-spectrum antivirals,” the researchers write in a paper published today by the journal Science.

The report boost confidence that remdesivir, which is currently going through accelerated clinical trials at the University of Washington and other research centers across the country, will prove effective for treating COVID-19 patients. It also illustrates how a detailed picture of the coronavirus’ inner workings — provided through a technology known as cryogenic electron microscopy, or cryo-EM — can point to additional strategies for beating the virus.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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