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International Journal of Molecular Sciences







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The landscape of viral strains and lineages of SARS-CoV-2 keeps changing and is currently dominated by Delta and Omicron variants. Members of the latest Omicron variants, including BA.1, are showing a high level of immune evasion, and Omicron has become a prominent variant circulating globally. In our search for versatile medicinal chemistry scaffolds, we prepared a library of substituted α-aminocyclobutanones from an α-aminocyclobutanone synthon (11). We performed an in silico screen of this actual chemical library as well as other virtual 2-aminocyclobutanone analogs against seven SARS-CoV-2 nonstructural proteins to identify potential drug leads against SARS-CoV-2, and more broadly against coronavirus antiviral targets. Several of these analogs were initially identified as in silico hits against SARS-CoV-2 nonstructural protein 13 (Nsp13) helicase through molecular docking and dynamics simulations. Antiviral activity of the original hits as well as α-aminocyclobutanone analogs that were predicted to bind more tightly to SARS-CoV-2 Nsp13 helicase are reported. We now report cyclobutanone derivatives that exhibit anti-SARS-CoV-2 activity. Furthermore, the Nsp13 helicase enzyme has been the target of relatively few target-based drug discovery efforts, in part due to a very late release of a high-resolution structure accompanied by a limited understanding of its protein biochemistry. In general, antiviral agents initially efficacious against wild-type SARS-CoV-2 strains have lower activities against variants due to heavy viral loads and greater turnover rates, but the inhibitors we are reporting have higher activities against the later variants than the wild-type (10–20X). We speculate this could be due to Nsp13 helicase being a critical bottleneck in faster replication rates of the new variants, so targeting this enzyme affects these variants to an even greater extent. This work calls attention to cyclobutanones as a useful medicinal chemistry scaffold, and the need for additional focus on the discovery of Nsp13 helicase inhibitors to combat the aggressive and immune-evading variants of concern (VOCs).


Author Posting © The Author(s), 2023. This article is posted here by permission of MDPI for personal use and redistribution. This article was published open access in International Journal of Molecular Sciences, VOL.24, ISS.6, (March 7,2023),

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.