Perspectives on SARS-CoV-2 Main Protease Inhibitors

J Med Chem. 2021 Dec 9;64(23):16922-16955. doi: 10.1021/acs.jmedchem.1c00409. Epub 2021 Nov 19.


The main protease (Mpro) plays a crucial role in severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) replication and is highly conserved, rendering it one of the most attractive therapeutic targets for SARS-CoV-2 inhibition. Currently, although two drug candidates targeting SARS-CoV-2 Mpro designed by Pfizer are under clinical trials, no SARS-CoV-2 medication is approved due to the long period of drug development. Here, we collect a comprehensive list of 817 available SARS-CoV-2 and SARS-CoV Mpro inhibitors from the literature or databases and analyze their molecular mechanisms of action. The structure-activity relationships (SARs) among each series of inhibitors are discussed. Additionally, we broadly examine available antiviral activity, ADMET (absorption, distribution, metabolism, excretion, and toxicity), and animal tests of these inhibitors. We comment on their druggability or drawbacks that prevent them from becoming drugs. This Perspective sheds light on the future development of Mpro inhibitors for SARS-CoV-2 and future coronavirus diseases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antiviral Agents / pharmacology
  • Coronavirus 3C Proteases*
  • Humans
  • Protease Inhibitors*


  • Antiviral Agents
  • Protease Inhibitors
  • 3C-like proteinase, SARS-CoV-2
  • Coronavirus 3C Proteases