After screening more than 3,500 FDA-approved drugs and small molecules, researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences found that ceftazidime, an antibiotic approved for use in treating pneumonia, binds to the receptors that the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) binds to in human cells. This drug could potentially be used to prevent virus infection. The research is published on the bioRxiv* preprint server in September 2020.
To combat the spread of COVID-19, researchers worldwide are racing to find strategies to prevent the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus from infecting more people. Some methods by which the virus attacks human cells are now known, and these have guided treatment approaches.
The coronavirus has proteins, called spike proteins, which jut out from its surface. A portion of the proteins has areas called receptor binding domains (RBDs) that can bind to receptors of the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) found on the host cells. Once the RBDs bind to the ACE2 receptors, the virus can fuse with the host cell membrane and infect the cell.
Several strategies for fighting the virus infection rely on preventing the virus from binding to the host cell receptors. For example, many monoclonal antibodies have been developed that target the spike protein of the virus.
However, these strategies cannot be deployed immediately as they need to undergo large scale trials for efficacy and safety in humans, which have long timelines. Furthermore, the cost of monoclonal antibodies is very high, which may prevent its widespread use.