Characterization of a dengue NS4B inhibitor originating from an HCV small molecule library
Dengue is the most important mosquito-transmitted viral disease and a major global health concern. Over the last decade, dengue virus (DENV) drug discovery and development has intensified, however, this has not resulted in approved DENV-specific antiviral treatments yet. DENV and hepatitis C virus (HCV) belong to the same Flaviviridae family and, in contrast to DENV, antiviral treatments for HCV have been licensed. Therefore, applying the knowledge gained on anti-HCV drugs may foster the discovery and development of dengue antiviral drugs. Here, we screened a library of compounds with established anti-HCV activity in a DENV-2 sub-genomic replicon inhibition assay and selected compounds with single-digit micromolar activity. These compounds were advanced into a hit-to-lead medicinal chemistry program resulting in lead compound JNJ-1A, which inhibited the DENV-2 sub-genomic replicon at 0.7 μM, in the absence of cytotoxicity. In addition, JNJ-1A showed equipotent antiviral activity against DENV serotypes 1, 2, and 4. In vitro resistance selection experiments with JNJ-1A induced mutation T108I in non-structural protein 4B (NS4B), pointing towards a mechanism of action linked to this protein. Collectively, we described the discovery and characterization of a novel DENV inhibitor potentially targeting NS4B.