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Saskatoon's synchrotron helping scientists develop antiviral drug for COVID-19


Scientists from the University of Alberta and Saskatoon are using the city’s Canadian Light Source to develop antiviral drugs to treat COVID-19.

The team found inhibitors that target a protein called a protease, which is used by the novel coronavirus to make more copies of itself.

Without this protein, the virus would be unable to multiply and harm human health.

Saskatoon researcher Kathryn Janzen compares this to a superhero losing its power.

Working remotely from Edmonton, Joanne Lemieux, U of A professor in the department of biochemistry, grew crystals of the SARS-CoV-2 protein and then used the synchrotron to obtain a three-dimensional picture of it.

With that image, researchers examined what proteins could fit together, like a lock and key, Janzen said.

“You can see at the different shapes and binding sites that they might be able to use to target a protease protein of the disease,” she said.

While SARS-CoV-2 and its cousins SARS and MERS cause serious respiratory diseases, coronaviruses are also responsible for a wide range of illnesses in humans and animals.

Lemieux said the proteases are similar among the different coronaviruses and that any antiviral s developed for one coronavirus would likely treat a variety of coronavirus infections, including those found in animals.

Pfizer, the pharmaceutical company behind a successful mRNA vaccine, is moving its own antivirals to stage one clinical trials.

Lemieux said this is a sign that her group has been headed in the right direction.

“This would enable ease of accessibility for people around the world, especially in regions or populations where vaccines are not an option,” she said.

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