Scientists have uncovered the system coronavirus uses to reproduce and infect victims and are now working to design a drug to stop the disease in its tracks.
Scientists have uncovered the system coronavirus uses to reproduce and infect victims and are now working to design a drug to stop the disease in its tracks.

Scientists’ discovery unlocks potential for virus drug

The system coronavirus uses to reproduce and infect its victims has been uncovered by Melbourne scientists, opening up a new target for drugs to fight the killer pandemic.

After producing a 3D map of the protein COVID-19 uses to replicate its virus, the Monash University team are now working to design a drug to attach to its surface and stop the disease in its tracks.

To speed up potential new treatments the researchers have also released their discovery - known as Nsp9 - to the world so it can be accessed by international laboratories.

Global research has revealed the COVID-19 virus produces 27 proteins. Picture: AP
Global research has revealed the COVID-19 virus produces 27 proteins. Picture: AP

Using the Australian Synchrotron in Clayton, the Monash team led by Prof Jamie Rossjohn were able to capture images of the atoms making up the crucial protein, enabling them to build a virtual model of its exact structure and shape.

If a drug can be designed to match and bind to Nsp9's shape it could potentially block COVID-19 from replicating - like making a key to fit into a lock.

"Understanding of the shape of the protein is a key step in understanding how you can design small molecule blockers," Prof Rossjohn said.

"We have solved the structure of the protein.

"We are now at the stage where we are looking at developing molecules that can block the function of this protein.

"Then we will be testing whether blocking the function of this protein will then lead to a reduction in viral replication."

Active COVID-19 Cases in VIC

Source: Vic DHSS

While the exact function of Nsp9 is still not fully understood, Prof Rossjohn published the findings in the pre-print journal, bioRxiv, saying studies of the related SARS virus indicated it's role viral replication.

Global research has revealed the COVID-19 virus produces 27 proteins. Scientists had already identified function and structure of three which, if targeted by drugs, may stop or slow down the disease.

Monash's discovery of Nsp9 provides a fourth frontier for drug designers to home in on, including the university's own Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences.

Using the power of the Australian Synchrotron Prof Rossjohn hopes to continue unmasking the roles and makeup of some of the remaining 24 proteins to determine if there are other suitable treatment targets.

"This is not going to be a one-hit wonder. We are looking at developing a research program that broadly what these proteins are doing and how the immune system can combat infections," he said.

Originally published as Melbourne scientists' discovery unlocks potential for virus drug



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