Brazilian snake venom (Bothrops jararacussu) has a molecule that inhibits the Covid-19 virus, according to a researcher at the Chemistry Institute (IQ) of the State University of São Paulo (Unesp). They identified in the venom of the Jararacuçu species a peptide – which is a piece of protein – capable of inhibiting the reproduction of the Covid-19 virus (SARS-CoV-2).
The discovery came after tests carried out in the laboratory, in which they observed that the molecule extracted from the snake’s venom inhibited the ability of the virus to multiply in monkey cells by 75%. The results obtained in the work generated an article that was published last week in the international scientific journal Molecules.
Thus, the study presents a promising path in the search for drugs to treat patients contaminated by Covid-19. The challenge for creating a new immunizing agent is to ensure that it is efficient against a given pathology and does not generate adverse reactions.
“We found a peptide that is not toxic to cells, but that inhibits virus replication. With this, if the compound becomes a medicine in the future, the organism would gain time to act and create the necessary antibodies, since the virus would have its infection speed compromised and would not advance in the organism”, explains Eduardo Maffud Cilli, professor at IQ and one of the authors of the work.
Easily obtainable, the peptide is found in Jararacuçu and is a molecule that interacts and blocks PLPro, one of the Covid-19 enzymes responsible for its multiplication in cells. According to the IQ professor, this mechanism of action is interesting because all SARS-CoV-2 variants have PLPro.
Therefore, the tendency is for the molecule to maintain its effectiveness against different virus mutations. Although several vaccines have been approved recently, the complete immunization of the world population will still take time, which, together with the emergence of new variants, reinforces the importance of the search for effective treatments.
The assay is carried out as follows: monkey cells grown in the laboratory receive the peptide and, after one hour, the virus is added to the culture. Two days later, the researchers evaluate the results and, through some calculations, discover how much the virus stopped reproducing.
This is possible because researchers already know in advance how the virus would multiply under normal conditions, that is, if it were in contact only with cells. In a second stage of the study, in which the researchers identified one of the mechanisms of action of the snake peptide, the compound was specifically tested against the PLPro enzyme, which was obtained at the São Carlos Institute of Physics (IFSC) at USP.
For the next steps of the study, specialists will assess the efficiency of different dosages of the molecule, as well as whether it can play other functions in the cell, such as protection, preventing the virus from even invading it. After the end of these tests, the objective is for the research to advance to the pre-clinical stage, in which the effectiveness of the peptide to treat animals infected by the new coronavirus will be studied.
“Our results are promising and represent a valuable resource in the exploration of new molecules for the discovery and development of drugs against SARS-CoV-2 infection”, concludes Cilli.
Photo: Internet/Bothrops Jararacussu
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