It is called 13b and is a molecule capable of binding and blocking protease, the enzyme that coronavirus uses to replicate within infected cells. It is the “engine” of the SARS-CoV-2 that researchers from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin für Materialien und Energie and the University of Luebeck have understood how to inhibit thanks to this molecule.

For the moment, the effectiveness of this “weapon” against the virus has been tested in a test tube on human lung cells and mice, where no toxicity has been detected. The results have been published in the journal Science and could lead to the creation of a drug over the next few years.

The discovery was made possible by the use of a “crystal” model of the coronavirus, displayed by reproducing the protease in three dimensions. Through the analysis of this protein, possible avenues are opened towards drugs that inhibit its reproductive power.

This is because the 3D view allows to identify more effectively the weak points of the virus to be exploited then through “weapons” such as the molecule 13b which, if they prove effective as in this case, can take us on the right path in the development of a possible drug.

in photos: The new coronavirus seen under a false color electron microscope. Credit: NIAID – RML

The analysis of the crystal structure of the coronavirus was made possible by extremely sophisticated instruments and the high intensity X-ray light of the BessY II laboratory at the Helmholtz-Zentrum in Berlin.

Thanks to these tools, the researchers managed to identify the structure of the viral protease (Mpro, 3CLpro) and 13b, the molecule that has proven useful in blocking the reproduction of the virus in human cells. Now the experiments will continue and could lead to a drug that can help us in the fight against coronavirus, but with certainly not fast times: we talk about years before we can see a commercially launched medicine.