Covid-19 continues to be a major health problem.   Research on the SARS-CoV-2 virus is continuing as potential vaccines are entering testing.  These are some of the publications from July concerning SARS-CoV-2.

Adaptive Evolution of Peptide Inhibitors for Mutating SARS-CoV-2

Parth Chaturvedi, Yanxiao Han, Petr Kral, Lela Vukovic, ChemRxiv. 2020 Jul 10.

doi: 10.26434/chemrxiv.12622667


The SARS-CoV-2 virus is currently causing a worldwide pandemic with dramatic societal consequences for the humankind. In the last decades, disease outbreaks due to such zoonotic pathogens have appeared with an accelerated rate, which calls for an urgent development of<br>adaptive (smart) therapeutics. Here, we develop a computational strategy to adaptively evolve peptides that could selectively inhibit mutating S protein receptor binding domains (RBDs) of different SARS-CoV-2 viral strains from binding to their human host receptor, angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2). Starting from suitable peptide templates, based on selected ACE2 segments (natural RBD binder), we gradually modify the templates by random mutations, while retaining those mutations that maximize their RBD-binding free energies. In this adaptive evolution, atomistic molecular dynamics simulations of the template-RBD complexes are iteratively perturbed by the peptide mutations, which are retained under favorable Monte Carlo decisions. The computational search will provide libraries<br>of optimized therapeutics capable of reducing the SARS-CoV-2 infection on a global scale. <br>

Evidence supporting the use of peptides and peptidomimetics as potential SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) therapeutics

Sonya VanPatten, Mingzhu He, Ahmad Altiti, Kai F Cheng, Mustafa H Ghanem, Yousef Al-Abed, Future Med Chem. 2020 Jul 16;10.4155/fmc-2020-0180.

doi: 10.4155/fmc-2020-0180.Online ahead of print.


During a disease outbreak/pandemic situation such as COVID-19, researchers are in a prime position to identify and develop peptide-based therapies, which could be more rapidly and cost-effectively advanced into a clinical setting. One drawback of natural peptide drugs, however, is their proteolytic instability; peptidomimetics can help to overcome this caveat. In this review, we summarize peptide and peptide-based therapeutics that target one main entry pathway of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), which involves the host angiotensin-converting enzyme-2 (ACE2) receptor and viral spike (S) protein interaction. Furthermore, we discuss the advantages of peptidomimetics and other potential targets that have been studied using peptide-based therapeutics for COVID-19.

Crystal Structure of the SARS-CoV-2 Non-structural Protein 9, Nsp9

Dene R Littler, Benjamin S Gully, Rhys N Colson, Jamie Rossjohn, iScience2020, 23(7):101258.

doi: 10.1016/j.isci.2020.101258. Epub 2020 Jun 9.


Many of the SARS-CoV-2 proteins have related counterparts across the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV) family. One such protein is non-structural protein 9 (Nsp9), which is thought to mediate viral replication, overall virulence, and viral genomic RNA reproduction. We sought to better characterize the SARS-CoV-2 Nsp9 and subsequently solved its X-ray crystal structure, in an apo form and, unexpectedly, in a peptide-bound form with a sequence originating from a rhinoviral 3C protease sequence (LEVL). The SARS-CoV-2 Nsp9 structure revealed the high level of structural conservation within the Nsp9 family. The exogenous peptide binding site is close to the dimer interface and impacted the relative juxtapositioning of the monomers within the homodimer. We have established a protocol for the production of SARS-CoV-2 Nsp9, determined its structure, and identified a peptide-binding site that warrants further study to understanding Nsp9 function.

A molecular docking study revealed that synthetic peptides induced conformational changes in the structure of SARS-CoV-2 spike glycoprotein, disrupting the interaction with human ACE2 receptor

Pedro F N Souza, Francisco E S Lopes, Jackson L Amaral, Cleverson D T Freitsa, Jose T A Oliveira, Int J Biol Macromol. 2020, 164:66-76.
 doi: 10.1016/j.ijbiomac.2020.07.174.Online ahead of print.


The global outbreak of COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease 2019) caused by SARS-CoV-2 (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome caused by Coronavirus 2) began in December 2019. Its closest relative, SARS-CoV-1, has a slightly mutated Spike (S) protein, which interacts with ACE2 receptor in human cells to start the infection. So far, there are no vaccines or drugs to treat COVID-19. So, research groups worldwide are seeking new molecules targeting the S protein to prevent infection by SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 establishment. We performed molecular docking analysis of eight synthetic peptides against SARS-CoV-2 S protein. All interacted with the protein, but Mo-CBP3-PepII and PepKAA had the highest affinity with it. By binding to the S protein, both peptides led to conformational alterations in the protein, resulting in incorrect interaction with ACE2. Therefore, given the importance of the S protein-ACE2 interaction for SARS-CoV-2 infection, synthetic peptides could block SARS-CoV-2 infection. Moreover, unlike other antiviral drugs, peptides have no toxicity to human cells. Thus, these peptides are potential molecules to be tested against SARS-CoV-2 and to develop new drugs to treat COVID-19.

Designing a multi-epitope vaccine against SARS-CoV-2: an immunoinformatics approach

Abdus Samad, Foysal Ahammad, Zulkar Nain, Rahat Alam, Raihan Rahman Imon, Mahadi Hasan, Md Shahedur Rahman, J Biomol Struct Dyn2020, 1-17.

doi: 10.1080/07391102.2020.1792347. Online ahead of print.


Ongoing COVID-19 outbreak has raised a drastic challenge to global public health security. Most of the patients with COVID-19 suffer from mild flu-like illnesses such as cold and fever; however, few percentages of the patients progress from severe illness to death, mostly in an immunocompromised individual. The causative agent of COVID-19 is an RNA virus known as severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). Despite these debilitating conditions, no medication to stop the disease progression or vaccination is available till now. Therefore, we aimed to formulate a multi-epitope vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 by utilizing an immunoinformatics approach. For this purpose, we used the SARS-CoV-2 spike glycoprotein to determine the immunodominant T- and B-cell epitopes. After rigorous assessment, we designed a vaccine construct using four potential epitopes from each of the three epitope classes such as cytotoxic T-lymphocytes, helper T-lymphocyte, and linear B-lymphocyte epitopes. The designed vaccine was antigenic, immunogenic, and non-allergenic with suitable physicochemical properties and has higher solubility. More importantly, the predicted vaccine structure was similar to the native protein. Further investigations indicated a strong and stable binding interaction between the vaccine and the toll-like receptor (TLR4). Strong binding stability and structural compactness were also evident in molecular dynamics simulation. Furthermore, the computer-generated immune simulation showed that the vaccine could trigger real-life-like immune responses upon administration into humans. Finally, codon optimization based on Escherichia coli K12 resulted in optimal GC content and higher CAI value followed by incorporating it into the cloning vector pET28+(a). Overall, these results suggest that the designed peptide vaccine can serve as an excellent prophylactic candidate against SARS-CoV-2.

Decoding the proteome of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) for cell-penetrating peptides involved in pathogenesis or applicable as drug delivery vectors

Shiva Hemmati, Yasaman Behzadipour, Mahdi Haddad, Infect Genet Evol2020 Jul 23;104474.

doi: 10.1016/j.meegid.2020.104474. Online ahead of print.


Synthetic or natural derived cell-penetrating peptides (CPPs) are vastly investigated as tools for the intracellular delivery of membrane-impermeable molecules. As viruses are intracellular obligate parasites, viral originated CPPs have been considered as suitable intracellular shuttling vectors for cargo transportation. A total of 310 CPPs were identified in the proteome of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). Screening the proteome of the cause of COVID-19 reveals that SARS-CoV-2 CPPs (SCV2-CPPs) span the regions involved in replication, protein-nucleotide and protein-protein interaction, protein-metal ion interaction, and stabilization of homo/hetero-oligomers. However, to find the most appropriate peptides as drug delivery vectors, one might face several hurdles. Computational analyses showed that 94.3% of the identified SCV2-CPPs are non-toxins, and 38% are neither antigenic nor allergenic. Interestingly, 36.70% of SCV2-CPPs were resistant to all four groups of protease families. Nearly 1/3 of SCV2-CPPs had sufficient inherent or induced helix and sheet conformation leading to increased uptake efficiency. Heliquest lipid-binding discrimination factor revealed that 44.30% of the helical SCV2-CPPs are lipid-binding helices. Although Cys-rich derived CPPs of helicase (NSP13) can potentially fold into a cyclic conformation in endosomes with a higher rate of endosomal release, the most optimal SCV2-CPP candidates as vectors for drug delivery were SCV2-CPP118, SCV2-CPP119, SCV2-CPP122, and SCV2-CPP129 of NSP12 (RdRp). Ten experimentally validated viral-derived CPPs were also used as the positive control to check the scalability and reliability of our protocol in SCV2-CPP retrieval. Some peptides with a cell-penetration ability known as bioactive peptides are adopted as biotherapeutics themselves. Therefore, 59.60%, 29.63%, and 32.32% of SCV2-CPPs were identified as potential antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungals, respectively. While 63.64% of SCV2-CPPs had immuno-modulatory properties, 21.89% were recognized as anti-cancers. Conclusively, the workflow of this study provides a platform for profound screening of viral proteomes as a rich source of biotherapeutics or drug delivery carriers.

A putative new SARS-CoV protein, 3c, encoded in an ORF overlapping ORF3a

Andrew E Firth, J Gen Virol2020 Jul 15.

doi: 10.1099/jgv.0.001469. Online ahead of print.


Identification of the full complement of genes in severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is a crucial step towards gaining a fuller understanding of its molecular biology. However, short and/or overlapping genes can be difficult to detect using conventional computational approaches, whereas high-throughput experimental approaches – such as ribosome profiling – cannot distinguish translation of functional peptides from regulatory translation or translational noise. By studying regions showing enhanced conservation at synonymous sites in alignments of SARS-CoV-2 and related viruses (subgenus Sarbecovirus) and correlating the results with the conserved presence of an open reading frame (ORF) and a plausible translation mechanism, a putative new gene – ORF3c – was identified. ORF3c overlaps ORF3a in an alternative reading frame. A recently published ribosome profiling study confirmed that ORF3c is indeed translated during infection. ORF3c is conserved across the subgenusSarbecovirus, and encodes a 40-41 amino acid predicted transmembrane protein.

Peptidyl Acyloxymethyl Ketones as Activity-Based Probes for the Main Protease of SARS-CoV-2

Merel A T van de Plassche, Marta Barniol-Xicota, Steven Verhelst, Chembiochem2020 Jul 27.

doi: 10.1002/cbic.202000371. Online ahead of print.


The global pandemic caused by SARS-CoV-2 calls for a fast development of antiviral drugs against this particular coronavirus. Chemical tools to facilitate inhibitor discovery as well as detection of target engagement by hit or lead compounds from high throughput screens are therefore in urgent need. We here report novel, selective activity-based probes that enable detection of the SARS-CoV-2 main protease. The probes are based on acyloxymethyl ketone reactive electrophiles combined with a peptide sequence including non-natural amino acids that targets the non-primed site of the main protease substrate binding cleft. They are the first activity-based probes for the main protease of coronaviruses and display target labeling within a human proteome without background. We expect that these reagents will be useful in the drug development pipeline, not only for the current SARS-CoV-2, but also for other coronaviruses.