Identification and evaluation of potent Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) 3CLPro inhibitors

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Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) causes severe acute respiratory illness with fever, cough and shortness of breath. Up to date, it has resulted in 1826 human infections, including 649 deaths. Analogous to picornavirus 3C protease (3Cpro), 3C-like protease (3CLpro) is critical for initiation of the MERS-CoV replication cycle and is thus regarded as a validated drug target. As presented here, our peptidomimetic inhibitors of enterovirus 3Cpro (6b, 6c and 6d) inhibited 3CLpro of MERS-CoV and severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) with IC50 values ranging from 1.7 to 4.7 μM and from 0.2 to 0.7 μM, respectively. In MERS-CoV-infected cells, the inhibitors showed antiviral activity with EC50 values ranging from 0.6 to 1.4 μM, by downregulating the viral protein production in cells as well as reducing secretion of infectious viral particles into culture supernatants. They also suppressed other α- and β-CoVs from human and feline origin. These compounds exhibited good selectivity index (over 70 against MERS-CoV) and could lead to the development of broad-spectrum antiviral drugs against emerging CoVs and picornaviruses.

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