The COVID-19 pandemic has clearly brought the healthcare systems worldwide to a breaking point, along with devastating socioeconomic consequences. The SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes the disease, uses RNA capping to evade the human immune system. Nonstructural protein (nsp) 14 is one of the 16 nsps in SARS-CoV-2 and catalyzes the methylation of the viral RNA at N7-guanosine in the cap formation process. To discover small-molecule inhibitors of nsp14 methyltransferase (MTase) activity, we developed and employed a radiometric MTase assay to screen a library of 161 in-house synthesized S-adenosylmethionine (SAM) competitive MTase inhibitors and SAM analogs. Among six identified screening hits, SS148 inhibited nsp14 MTase activity with an IC50 value of 70 ± 6 nM and was selective against 20 human protein lysine MTases, indicating significant differences in SAM binding sites. Interestingly, DS0464 with an IC50 value of 1.1 ± 0.2 µM showed a bisubstrate competitive inhibitor mechanism of action. DS0464 was also selective against 28 out of 33 RNA, DNA, and protein MTases. The structure-activity relationship provided by these compounds should guide the optimization of selective bisubstrate nsp14 inhibitors and may provide a path toward a novel class of antivirals against COVID-19, and possibly other coronaviruses.
Keywords: COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2; coronavirus; nsp14.