Wuhan, China was the epicenter of the first zoonotic transmission of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus clade 2 (SARS-CoV-2) in December 2019 and it is the causative agent of the novel human coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Almost from the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak several attempts were made to predict possible drugs capable of inhibiting the virus replication. In the present work a drug repurposing study is performed to identify potential SARS-CoV-2 protease inhibitors. We created a Quantitative Structure-Activity Relationship (QSAR) model based on a machine learning strategy using hundreds of inhibitor molecules of the main protease (Mpro) of the SARS-CoV coronavirus. The QSAR model was used for virtual screening of a large list of drugs from the DrugBank database. The best 20 candidates were then evaluated in-silico against the Mpro of SARS-CoV-2 by using docking and molecular dynamics analyses. Docking was done by using the Gold software, and the free energies of binding were predicted with the MM-PBSA method as implemented in AMBER. Our results indicate that levothyroxine, amobarbital and ABP-700 are the best potential inhibitors of the SARS-CoV-2 virus through their binding to the Mpro enzyme. Five other compounds showed also a negative but small free energy of binding: nikethamide, nifurtimox, rebimastat, apomine and rebastinib.
Keywords: COVID-19; QSAR; SARS-CoV-2; drugs repurposing; molecular dynamics.