Dan Nomura in his lab. Photo: Elena Zhukova
Thanks to Fast Grants, a rapid funding program activated six weeks ago, a group of seven COVID-19 research projets has started at UC Berkeley that could turn up new diagnostic and potential treatments for the infection within months.
One project is being lead by Daniel Nomura, a professor of chemistry, molecular and cell biology, and nutritional sciences and toxicology. He is working with a group of investigators, and fellow professors, planning to use innovative chemical biology approaches to develop novel therapeutics against COVID-19. With $500,000, the team, which includes Niren Murthy, professor of bioengineering, and Jamie Cate, professor of chemistry and of molecular and cell biology, will be looking for weaknesses in the SARS-CoV-2 proteins that could be leveraged by a small molecule, hopefully knocking out the virus.
“We’ve been able to develop very potent inhibitors against the SARS-CoV-2 main cysteine protease (MPro), which is essential for viral replication and which also inhibits the SARS-CoV-1 and MERS-CoV MPros,” he said. “The goal of this project is to develop a drug against not only COVID-19, but also future coronaviruses.”
Nomura's project will rely heavily on UC Berkeley’s newly opened Drug Discovery Center to take the potential targets they discover and throw drugs at them to see if they knock out the virus.
The center was set up over the past two years by Julia Schaletzky, executive director of UC Berkeley’s Center for Emerging and Neglected Diseases (CEND) and its Immunotherapeutics and Vaccine Research Institute (IVRI), who had just completed startup tests before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
“It was kind of perfect timing that we had done all this work just before, so now we hit the ground running on screening campaigns and drug discovery campaigns,” she said.