A recently emerged betacoronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, has led to a global health crisis that calls for the identification of effective therapeutics for COVID-19 disease. Coronavirus papain-like protease (PLpro) is an attractive drug target as it is essential for viral polyprotein cleavage and for deconjugation of ISG15, an antiviral ubiquitin-like protein. We show here that 6-Thioguanine (6-TG) inhibits SARS-CoV-2 PLpro-catalyzed viral polyprotein cleavage and ISG15 deconjugation in cells and inhibits replication of SARS-CoV-2 in Vero-E6 cells and Calu3 cells at submicromolar levels. As a well-characterized FDA-approved orally delivered drug, 6-TG represents a promising therapeutic for COVID-19 and other emerging coronaviruses.
One sentence summary: A repurposed drug that targets an essential enzymatic activity of SARS-CoV-2 represents a promising COVID-19 therapeutic.