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Croatian scientist and his team discover potential weak spot of novel coronavirus

ZAGREB, May 7 (Hina) – Croatian scientist Ivan Djikic and his team at the Institute of Biochemistry II (IBC2) in Frankfurt have discovered a potential weak spot of the novel coronavirus which might enable a two-pronged therapeutic strategy – stemming the spread of the virus and boosting the immunological response.

“No one has tested this concept, this new idea so far. We are the first to have a possible cure that will have a twofold impact both on the virus and on boosting the immunological response,” Djikic, who is the director of IBC2, said in an interview with the commercial Nova TV channel on Wednesday evening.

He added that this discovery was a great step towards finding a cure against COVID-19.

“This is now a chance for us to create for the first time something that is unique and focused on a viral enzyme. Based on that we can create a more effective and specific cure for this type of virus,” Djikic said.

The project emerged from the idea of discovering the virus’s Achilles’ heel rather than a cure. Within a space of two months and through collaboration with nine laboratories from Germany and the Netherlands, we have managed to find the virus’ weak spot, he added.

He said that this feat was the best experience of his career which required an extraordinary team effort.

According to a statement from IBC2, scientists have identified the papain-like protease (PLpro) of SARS-CoV-2 as an essential viral enzyme and potential weak spot.

PLpro is required for the processing of viral polypeptides and the assembly of new viral particles within human cells. In addition, SARS-CoV-2 uses this enzyme to dampen the anti-viral immune response, helping the virus to modulate the host’s immune system to its own benefit. By this, the virus can easily multiply and spread further.

The team has demonstrated that pharmaceutical targeting of PLpro by a non-covalent inhibitor (GRL-0617) blocks virus spread and increases anti-viral immunity in human epithelial cells, the prime site of pathogen entry.

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