Colloidal aggregators in biochemical SARS-CoV-2 repurposing screens

bioRxiv. 2021 Aug 31;2021.08.31.458413. doi: 10.1101/2021.08.31.458413. Preprint


To fight the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, much effort has been directed toward drug repurposing, testing investigational and approved drugs against several viral or human proteins in vitro . Here we investigate the impact of colloidal aggregation, a common artifact in early drug discovery, in these repurposing screens. We selected 56 drugs reported to be active in biochemical assays and tested them for aggregation by both dynamic light scattering and by enzyme counter screening with and without detergent; seventeen of these drugs formed colloids at concentrations similar to their literature reported IC 50 s. To investigate the occurrence of colloidal aggregators more generally in repurposing libraries, we further selected 15 drugs that had physical properties resembling known aggregators from a common repurposing library, and found that 6 of these aggregated at micromolar concentrations. An attraction of repurposing is that drugs active on one target are considered de-risked on another. This study suggests not only that many of the drugs repurposed for SARS-CoV-2 in biochemical assays are artifacts, but that, more generally, when screened at relevant concentrations, drugs can act artifactually via colloidal aggregation. Understanding the role of aggregation, and detecting its effects rapidly, will allow the community to focus on those drugs and leads that genuinely have potential for treating COVID-19.

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  • Preprint