Identifying SARS-CoV-2 antiviral compounds by screening for small molecule inhibitors of nsp13 helicase

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The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, which is caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), is a global public health challenge. While the efficacy of vaccines against emerging and future virus variants remains unclear, there is a need for therapeutics. Repurposing existing drugs represents a promising and potentially rapid opportunity to find novel antivirals against SARS-CoV-2. The virus encodes at least nine enzymatic activities that are potential drug targets. Here, we have expressed, purified and developed enzymatic assays for SARS-CoV-2 nsp13 helicase, a viral replication protein that is essential for the coronavirus life cycle. We screened a custom chemical library of over 5000 previously characterized pharmaceuticals for nsp13 inhibitors using a fluorescence resonance energy transfer-based high-throughput screening approach. From this, we have identified FPA-124 and several suramin-related compounds as novel inhibitors of nsp13 helicase activity in vitro. We describe the efficacy of these drugs using assays we developed to monitor SARS-CoV-2 growth in Vero E6 cells.