Effective control of COVID-19 requires antivirals directed against SARS-CoV-2. We assessed 10 hepatitis C virus (HCV) protease-inhibitor drugs as potential SARS-CoV-2 antivirals. There is a striking structural similarity of the substrate binding clefts of SARS-CoV-2 main protease (Mpro) and HCV NS3/4A protease. Virtual docking experiments show that these HCV drugs can potentially bind into the Mpro substrate-binding cleft. We show that seven HCV drugs inhibit both SARS-CoV-2 Mpro protease activity and SARS-CoV-2 virus replication in Vero and/or human cells. However, their Mpro inhibiting activities did not correlate with their antiviral activities. This conundrum is resolved by demonstrating that four HCV protease inhibitor drugs, simeprevir, vaniprevir, paritaprevir, and grazoprevir inhibit the SARS CoV-2 papain-like protease (PLpro). HCV drugs that inhibit PLpro synergize with the viral polymerase inhibitor remdesivir to inhibit virus replication, increasing remdesivir's antiviral activity as much as 10-fold, while those that only inhibit Mpro do not synergize with remdesivir.
Keywords: COVID-19; HCV protease inhibitors; SARS-CoV-2 3CL/M(pro) protease; SARS-CoV-2 PL protease; SARS-CoV-2 virus replication; antivirals; molecular docking; remdesivir; synergism.
Copyright © 2021 The Author(s). Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.