Proof-of-concept studies with a computationally designed M inhibitor as a synergistic combination regimen alternative to Paxlovid.

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, Volume 121, Issue 17, p.e2320713121 (2024)


Animals, Antiviral Agents, Clinical Protocols, Cytidine, Drug Combinations, Hepatitis C, Chronic, Humans, Hydroxylamines, Lactams, Leucine, Mice, Nitriles, Proline, Ritonavir


<p>As the SARS-CoV-2 virus continues to spread and mutate, it remains important to focus not only on preventing spread through vaccination but also on treating infection with direct-acting antivirals (DAA). The approval of Paxlovid, a SARS-CoV-2 main protease (M) DAA, has been significant for treatment of patients. A limitation of this DAA, however, is that the antiviral component, nirmatrelvir, is rapidly metabolized and requires inclusion of a CYP450 3A4 metabolic inhibitor, ritonavir, to boost levels of the active drug. Serious drug-drug interactions can occur with Paxlovid for patients who are also taking other medications metabolized by CYP4503A4, particularly transplant or otherwise immunocompromised patients who are most at risk for SARS-CoV-2 infection and the development of severe symptoms. Developing an alternative antiviral with improved pharmacological properties is critical for treatment of these patients. By using a computational and structure-guided approach, we were able to optimize a 100 to 250 μM screening hit to a potent nanomolar inhibitor and lead compound, Mpro61. In this study, we further evaluate Mpro61 as a lead compound, starting with examination of its mode of binding to SARS-CoV-2 M. In vitro pharmacological profiling established a lack of off-target effects, particularly CYP450 3A4 inhibition, as well as potential for synergy with the currently approved alternate antiviral, molnupiravir. Development and subsequent testing of a capsule formulation for oral dosing of Mpro61 in B6-K18-hACE2 mice demonstrated favorable pharmacological properties, efficacy, and synergy with molnupiravir, and complete recovery from subsequent challenge by SARS-CoV-2, establishing Mpro61 as a promising potential preclinical candidate.</p>