Searching for target-specific and multi-targeting organics for Covid-19 in the Drugbank database with a double scoring approach

Sci Rep. 2020 Nov 5;10(1):19125. doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-75762-7.


The current outbreak of Covid-19 infection due to SARS-CoV-2, a virus from the coronavirus family, has become a major threat to human healthcare. The virus has already infected more than 44 M people and the number of deaths reported has reached more than 1.1 M which may be attributed to lack of medicine. The traditional drug discovery approach involves many years of rigorous research and development and demands for a huge investment which cannot be adopted for the ongoing pandemic infection. Rather we need a swift and cost-effective approach to inhibit and control the viral infection. With the help of computational screening approaches and by choosing appropriate chemical space, it is possible to identify lead drug-like compounds for Covid-19. In this study, we have used the Drugbank database to screen compounds against the most important viral targets namely 3C-like protease (3CLpro), papain-like protease (PLpro), RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp) and the spike (S) protein. These targets play a major role in the replication/transcription and host cell recognition, therefore, are vital for the viral reproduction and spread of infection. As the structure based computational screening approaches are more reliable, we used the crystal structures for 3C-like main protease and spike protein. For the remaining targets, we used the structures based on homology modeling. Further, we employed two scoring methods based on binding free energies implemented in AutoDock Vina and molecular mechanics-generalized Born surface area approach. Based on these results, we propose drug cocktails active against the three viral targets namely 3CLpro, PLpro and RdRp. Interestingly, one of the identified compounds in this study i.e. Baloxavir marboxil has been under clinical trial for the treatment of Covid-19 infection. In addition, we have identified a few compounds such as Phthalocyanine, Tadalafil, Lonafarnib, Nilotinib, Dihydroergotamine, R-428 which can bind to all three targets simultaneously and can serve as multi-targeting drugs. Our study also included calculation of binding energies for various compounds currently under drug trials. Among these compounds, it is found that Remdesivir binds to targets, 3CLpro and RdRp with high binding affinity. Moreover, Baricitinib and Umifenovir were found to have superior target-specific binding while Darunavir is found to be a potential multi-targeting drug. As far as we know this is the first study where the compounds from the Drugbank database are screened against four vital targets of SARS-CoV-2 and illustrates that the computational screening using a double scoring approach can yield potential drug-like compounds against Covid-19 infection.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19
  • Coronavirus 3C Proteases
  • Coronavirus Infections / drug therapy*
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Cysteine Endopeptidases / chemistry
  • Cysteine Endopeptidases / metabolism
  • Databases, Pharmaceutical*
  • Drug Evaluation, Preclinical / economics
  • Drug Evaluation, Preclinical / methods*
  • Humans
  • Molecular Docking Simulation
  • Molecular Targeted Therapy*
  • Pandemics
  • Pneumonia, Viral / drug therapy*
  • Protein Conformation
  • Viral Nonstructural Proteins / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Viral Nonstructural Proteins / chemistry
  • Viral Nonstructural Proteins / metabolism


  • Viral Nonstructural Proteins
  • Cysteine Endopeptidases
  • Coronavirus 3C Proteases