New drug target for SARS
of a protein essential for the replication of the virus that causes
severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) which could represent a
new drug target for the disease.
The scientists, from the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), used the publication of the SARS genome last year as a springboard to identify the 3D structures of all the proteins in the virus. Along with research partners across Europe, they have identified one protein, known as nsp9, as a potential target for therapy.
The coronavirus that causes SARS caused global panic last year, both for its relatively high rate of mortality (around 10 per cent of those infected) and its rapid spread. And although the epidemic has abated, there were ominous signs that it could reappear quickly. A handful of cases of infection with the virus have been seen in China since the end of 2003, but so far none have progressed to SARS.
This has given an added spur to the search for potential treatments and vaccines for the disease.
So far, the CNRS team have worked out the structure of four of the 28 proteins that have been identified in the SARS coronavirus. With the structure in hand, it was possible to work out their roles, and to establish that nsp9 is intrinsically involved in viral replication.
Last year, researchers in Germany identified another protein, dubbed coronavirus main protease, that could also be a target for drug therapy.
The researchers said that this 'blanket' approach to protein structure studies could also be used to identify new drug targets in other emerging diseases such as Dengue fever, West Nile virus and avian flu.
One other benefit coming out of the project is that it has revealed the close similarities between the SARS coronavirus and those that infect animals, the primary hosts for this type of virus, with regard to enzymes and structural proteins.
This similarity suggests that it will be possible to accelerate research into other viruses which like SARS cross over the species barrier by using the animal version as a research tool.