SARS medicine on its way?

A group of molecular biologists in Germany (working at the universities of Lübeck, Jena and Würzburg) have achieved a scientific breakthrough, which may represent a great stride forward when it comes to finding a feasible remedy for SARS.

The group, consisting of the German-based researchers Kanchan Anand, John Ziebuhr, Parvesh Wadhwani, Jeroen R. Mesters and Rolf Hilgenfeld, has succeeded in building a structural model of an important component of the SARS-causing corona virus – an enzyme called protease.

Agent of subversion

Protease participates in the process that makes it possible for a virus to enter the cells of the victim and dupe the victim’s cells into starting a mass production of new copies of the virus. If you know the precise structure of the protease, then it is possible to devise a molecule that can inactivate it (a protease inhibitor). The discovery of the structure of the protease of the HIV-virus in the mid-1990s soon led to the development of the present HIV-inhibiting medicines.

Minor modifications

The outlook regarding a possible anti-SARS medicine in the foreseeable future looks even brighter. The SARS virus belongs to the group of corona viruses, which also includes the viruses that cause the common cold. The German-based researchers suggest that certain already available rhinovirus 3C protease inhibitors only need slight modifications to suit the task of inhibiting the SARS-virus protease. One such molecule, an agent by the name of AG7088, is already undergoing clinical tests by a pharmaceuticals company.

The results were published on May 13, 2003 on the web version of the Science magazine.


Science website:

NOTE: It is interesting and encouraging to note that front-line science seems to know no national boundaries or gender differences, not even in Europe. The German-based group includes two Indians, it is led by a woman (Kanchan Anand), and part of the work was carried out in former East Germany (Jena).