Scientists from Altai State University are creating a drug against different types of coronavirus

12 February 2024 Department of Information and Media Communication
Text and photo by Yaroslav Makhnachev

Scientists at Altai State University, together with colleagues from Belarus, are creating a drug that prevents the development of coronavirus infection in the human body, as "Vecherny Barnaul" reports.

Specific goal

As soon as the pandemic of a new coronavirus infection began in the world in 2020, scientists from all countries began to develop ways to combat it – vaccines, diagnostic methods, as well as specific antiviral drugs. Altai State University scientists did not stand aside either.

“When we decided which direction to go, we chose the Mpro protease as our target,” says Dmitry Shcherbakov, Сandidate of Biological Sciences, Director of the Research Institute of Biomedicine of Altai State University, employee of the Research and Production Center “Vector”. “The virus has several proteins that are important for its life cycle and replication, that is, development. One of them is viral protease."

As Dmitry explains, there are drugs with broad antiviral activity, and there are more narrow ones. In their case, a search is underway for a drug that can block specific SARS-CoV-2. Ideally, in the future it will be the very medicine that prevents the multiplication of the virus in the human body. Actually, the stage of the finished drug is still far away.

Big team

Barnaul scientists are conducting research on inhibitory activity of substances, that is its effectiveness, on the coronavirus protease using a special device available at Altai State University.

Dmitry Shcherbakov emphasizes: the university does not work with the virus itself; they use a protein obtained in a test tube and purified by chromatography – it is not dangerous, not harmful, does not cause pathogenesis and does not require special conditions for research.

“With this recombinant protein (a protein that has undergone certain modifications and is encoded by modified DNA. – author’s note), we can conduct screening, that is, take various drugs, conduct a study of their activity in relation to it,” says the scientist.

Scientists from Altai State University have already collaborated with colleagues from the Novosibirsk Institute of Organic Chemistry named after N.N. Vorozhtsov SB RAS (Novosibirsk), State Scientific Center of Virology and Biotechnology “Vector” of Rospotrebnadzor (Koltsovo), Ufa Institute of Chemistry of the Ufa Federal Research Center (Ufa). By saying “we,” Dmitry Shcherbakov highlights the resource-intensive nature of modern scientific projects which require collaboration among large teams, with some being engaged in producing recombinant protease, others in conducting research. Three people from Altai State University are currently participating in the study.

The work of Barnaul scientists interested chemists from the Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus.

"Such cooperation, like many in science, arose, one might say, by chance. Colleagues asked us about the possibility of conducting this kind of analysis, and we agreed,” says Dmitry Shcherbakov. "In fact, working with various groups is interesting. They provided quite a lot of substances for research, we gave feedback, and depending on the result, the developers modified chemical groups, introducing something, removing something. We worked very productively, despite the long distance."

According to Shcherbakov, in such cooperation it is hard to say who has the leading role. For example, our scientists interacting with Vector, where it is possible to work on a live virus, if an effective compound is discovered, they can contact the laboratory for research at the next level, and this means a lot.

Universal remedy

Now the substance under study is a powder that has certain activity against the SARS-CoV-2 protease. The ultimate goal is to develop the pill. But before that, the substance itself will undergo a serious chain of research. Dmitry Shcherbakov admits that there is still a lot of work ahead.

The Barnaul-Belarus development cannot be called unique; scientists are struggling to create the drug all over the world, but no one has made global progress yet, with the exception of the peptidomimetic from Pfizer, which is currently in use.

"The substance is not yet active enough to move on to research on a live virus, not to mention the next stage. We will carry out further modifications. It’s difficult to predict how long this will take, but one and a half to two years for sure,” says the Barnaul scientist. “We don’t have the task of working for the sake of working.” The goal is to collect a knowledge base that would ultimately make it possible to create an effective drug that stops the development of COVID-19. The new coronavirus infection has come for a long time, it will circulate, so the development of therapeutic topical agents will always be relevant."

The modification of the infection and the variety of strains, according to Dmitry Shcherbakov, do not matter in this case. Research has shown that in the evolution that the virus has undergone since its release to humans, it is its protease that has undergone the least changes. And there is reason to believe that it will continue to remain the same with the mutation of COVID-19.

There are many coronaviruses in the world. Will the development of scientists work against them, and not just against the new coronavirus infection?

“Good question,” notes Dmitry Nikolaevich. “We have developed not only the protease of SARS-CoV-2, but also of other coronaviruses.  And, of course, we will test the active substances for them. The task is to find a drug with a wide spectrum of action."

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