This Could Be the Coronavirus’ “Achilles Heel,” Researchers Say

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The coronavirus pandemic has spread across the globe, infecting more than 10 million people. As it continues to wreak havoc, many scientists are working to determine a potential weakness in the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) so as to find an effective drug or vaccine against it.

A team of scientists at the University of California San Francisco has found out how SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) invades proteins in the cells that serve as master regulators of key cellular processes. The virus can rewire the cell’s circuits to promote its survival and proliferation. The scientists also suggest that targeting the pathogen’s reliance on host-cell proteins could be its Achilles’ heel or weakness.

The study, published in the journal Cell, highlights the possibility of targeting the virus’s weakness so it could be killed, potentially stopping the global pandemic.

The team has identified key cell entry mechanisms of SARS-CoV-2 that can potentially contribute to the immune evasion, cell infectivity, and the wide spread of the virus.

They also found that when SARS-CoV-2 infects cells, it gets in control over a group of enzymes called kinases. Usually, kinases play a pivotal role as master regulators of growth, metabolism, repair, movement, and other vital cellular processes. They attach small chemical tags to proteins via a process known as phosphorylation. After attachment, the tags act as switches that can turn proteins on or off, allowing the complex machinery to work correctly and smoothly.

The scientists also believe that they have identified several drugs that could help alter the viral takeover of cells. These drugs may have the potential to treat patients who are infected with the coronavirus.

Among the drugs identified include cancer drugs that work by blocking the chemical signals that activate the production of filipodia. These include Silmitasertib, an experimental drug for treating bile duct cancer, Ralimetinib, a small molecule experimental cancer drug in development by Eli Lilly.

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