Advanced bioinformatics rapidly identifies existing therapeutics for patients with coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19)

J Transl Med. 2020 Jun 25;18(1):257. doi: 10.1186/s12967-020-02430-9.


Background: The recent global pandemic has placed a high priority on identifying drugs to prevent or lessen clinical infection of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), caused by Coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19).

Methods: We applied two computational approaches to identify potential therapeutics. First, we sought to identify existing FDA approved drugs that could block coronaviruses from entering cells by binding to ACE2 or TMPRSS2 using a high-throughput AI-based binding affinity prediction platform. Second, we sought to identify FDA approved drugs that could attenuate the gene expression patterns induced by coronaviruses, using our Disease Cancelling Technology (DCT) platform.

Results: Top results for ACE2 binding iincluded several ACE inhibitors, a beta-lactam antibiotic, two antiviral agents (Fosamprenavir and Emricasan) and glutathione. The platform also assessed specificity for ACE2 over ACE1, important for avoiding counterregulatory effects. Further studies are needed to weigh the benefit of blocking virus entry against potential counterregulatory effects and possible protective effects of ACE2. However, the data herein suggest readily available drugs that warrant experimental evaluation to assess potential benefit. DCT was run on an animal model of SARS-CoV, and ranked compounds by their ability to induce gene expression signals that counteract disease-associated signals. Top hits included Vitamin E, ruxolitinib, and glutamine. Glutathione and its precursor glutamine were highly ranked by two independent methods, suggesting both warrant further investigation for potential benefit against SARS-CoV-2.

Conclusions: While these findings are not yet ready for clinical translation, this report highlights the potential use of two bioinformatics technologies to rapidly discover existing therapeutic agents that warrant further investigation for established and emerging disease processes.

Keywords: Artificial intelligence; Bioinformatics; Computational Biology; Coronavirus; Drug therapy.

MeSH terms

  • Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme 2
  • Animals
  • Betacoronavirus / genetics
  • Betacoronavirus / physiology*
  • COVID-19
  • Computational Biology*
  • Coronavirus Infections / genetics*
  • Coronavirus Infections / therapy*
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Glutamine / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Pandemics
  • Peptidyl-Dipeptidase A / metabolism
  • Pneumonia, Viral / genetics*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / therapy*
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Serine Endopeptidases / metabolism


  • Glutamine
  • Peptidyl-Dipeptidase A
  • ACE2 protein, human
  • Ace2 protein, mouse
  • Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme 2
  • Serine Endopeptidases
  • TMPRSS2 protein, human