A simplified cell-based assay to identify coronavirus 3CL protease inhibitors

BioRxiv : the Preprint Server for Biology
S. J. ResnickAlejandro Chavez


We describe a mammalian cell-based assay capable of identifying coronavirus 3CL protease (3CLpro) inhibitors without requiring the use of live virus. By enabling the facile testing of compounds across a range of coronavirus 3CLpro enzymes, including the one from SARS-CoV-2, we are able to quickly identify compounds with broad or narrow spectra of activity. We further demonstrate the utility of our approach by performing a curated compound screen along with structure-activity profiling of a series of small molecules to identify compounds with antiviral activity. Throughout these studies, we observed concordance between data emerging from this assay and from live virus assays. By democratizing the testing of 3CL inhibitors to enable screening in the majority of laboratories rather than the few with extensive biosafety infrastructure, we hope to expedite the search for coronavirus 3CL protease inhibitors, to address the current epidemic and future ones that will inevitably arise.

Methods Mentioned

fluorescence microscopy
protease assay
fluorescence imaging
column chromatography

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