Discovery of lead natural products for developing pan-SARS-CoV-2 therapeutics

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The COVID-19 pandemic, caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), remains a global public health crisis. The reduced efficacy of therapeutic monoclonal antibodies against emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern (VOCs), such as omicron BA.5 subvariants, has underlined the need to explore a novel spectrum of antivirals that are effective against existing and evolving SARS-CoV-2 VOCs. To address the need for novel therapeutic options, we applied cell-based high-content screening to a library of natural products (NPs) obtained from plants, fungi, bacteria, and marine sponges, which represent a considerable diversity of chemical scaffolds. The antiviral effect of 373 NPs was evaluated using the mNeonGreen (mNG) reporter SARS-CoV-2 virus in a lung epithelial cell line (Calu-3). The screening identified 26 NPs with half-maximal effective concentrations (EC50) below 50 μM against mNG-SARS-CoV-2; 16 of these had EC50 values below 10 μM and three NPs (holyrine A, alotaketal C, and bafilomycin D) had EC50 values in the nanomolar range. We demonstrated the pan-SARS-CoV-2 activity of these three lead antivirals against SARS-CoV-2 highly transmissible Omicron subvariants (BA.5, BA.2 and BA.1) and highly pathogenic Delta VOCs in human Calu-3 lung cells. Notably, holyrine A, alotaketal C, and bafilomycin D, are potent nanomolar inhibitors of SARS-CoV-2 Omicron subvariants BA.5 and BA.2. The pan-SARS-CoV-2 activity of alotaketal C [protein kinase C (PKC) activator] and bafilomycin D (V-ATPase inhibitor) suggest that these two NPs are acting as host-directed antivirals (HDAs). Future research should explore whether PKC regulation impacts human susceptibility to and the severity of SARS-CoV-2 infection, and it should confirm the important role of human V-ATPase in the VOC lifecycle. Interestingly, we observed a synergistic action of bafilomycin D and N-0385 (a highly potent inhibitor of human TMPRSS2 protease) against Omicron subvariant BA.2 in human Calu-3 lung cells, which suggests that these two highly potent HDAs are targeting two different mechanisms of SARS-CoV-2 entry. Overall, our study provides insight into the potential of NPs with highly diverse chemical structures as valuable inspirational starting points for developing pan-SARS-CoV-2 therapeutics and for unravelling potential host factors and pathways regulating SARS-CoV-2 VOC infection including emerging omicron BA.5 subvariants.




Pérez-Vargas, J., Shapira, T., Olmstead, A. D., Villanueva, I., Thompson, C. A. H., Ennis, S., … Jean, F. (2023). Discovery of lead natural products for developing pan-SARS-CoV-2 therapeutics. Antiviral Research, 209.

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