Despite several major achievements in the development of vaccines and antivirals, the fight against SARS-CoV-2 and the health problems accompanying COVID-19 are still ongoing. SARS-CoV-2 main protease (Mpro), an essential viral cysteine protease, is a crucial target for the development of antiviral agents. A virtual screening analysis of in-house cysteine protease inhibitors against SARS-CoV-2 Mpro allowed us to identify two hits (i.e., 1 and 2) bearing a methyl vinyl ketone warhead. Starting from these compounds, we herein report the development of Michael acceptors targeting SARS-CoV-2 Mpro, which differ from each other for the warhead and for the amino acids at the P2 site. The most promising vinyl methyl ketone-containing analogs showed sub-micromolar activity against the viral protease. SPR38, SPR39, and SPR41 were fully characterized, and additional inhibitory properties towards hCatL, which plays a key role in the virus entry into host cells, were observed. SPR39 and SPR41 exhibited single-digit micromolar EC50 values in a SARS-CoV-2 infection model in cell culture.
Keywords: Antiviral activity; COVID-19; Michael acceptors; Peptide-based inhibitors; SARS-CoV-2 M(pro) inhibition.
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