Scientists in Russia Look for Substance to Override COVID-19 Genome Defense

Scientists of the Institute of Chemical Biology and Fundamental Medicine of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences will conduct a study to search for substances withstanding the effect of the coronavirus protein, which protects it from many antiviral preparations. It is planned to find such compositions within two years, head of laboratory of genome and protein engineering of the Institute of Chemical Biology and Fundamental Medicine of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences Dmitry Zharkov told TASS.

The coronavirus, in addition to the polymerase protein that all viruses have which is responsible for the propagation of the virus, contains one more protein which removes wrong nucleotides from the growing RNA chain. This complicates the process of finding a medicine against the coronavirus infection since many antiviral drugs use precisely this principle – they insert themselves in the existing chain and prevent the virus from synthesizing its genetic material cutting off its propagation. The constant rapid replication is important for the viability of the coronavirus (differing, for example, from the immunodeficiency virus which can insert itself in the human cell genome).

“Our goal is to find the compositions that are easily inserted in the growing chain and are not readily removed by the correcting activity of the virus. If we succeed, new horizons for the development of anti-coronaviral drugs will emerge,” the researcher said.

According to him, there are very few such targets that only the virus possesses while humans do not. However, the correcting protein is one of the few targets unique to coronaviruses, which makes the study even more pressing. The scientist said that the researchers at his institute have a vast experience of working with proteins that remove wrong nucleotides from genome.

“There are chemists and biologists on our team. Chemists will synthesize various compositions which will be inserted at the end of the growing RNA chain, and we will monitor how well they are removed by that protein which corrects errors,” the scientist noted. The two-year project is supported by the Russian Foundation for Basic Research grant.

To date, 861,423 coronavirus cases have been confirmed in Russia, with 661,471 patients having recovered from the disease. Russia’s latest data indicates 14,351 fatalities nationwide. Earlier, the Russian government set up an Internet hotline to keep the public updated on the coronavirus situation.