De Novo Design of New Chemical Entities (NCEs) for SARS-CoV-2 Using Artificial Intelligence

The novel SARS-CoV-2 is the source of a global pandemic COVID-19, which has severely affected the health and economy of several countries. Multiple studies are in progress, employing diverse approaches to design novel therapeutics against the potential target proteins in SARS-CoV-2. One of the well-studied protein targets for coronaviruses is the chymotrypsin-like (3CL) protease, responsible for post-translational modifications of viral polyproteins essential for its survival and replication in the host. There are ongoing attempts to repurpose the existing viral protease inhibitors against 3CL protease of SARS-CoV-2. Recent studies have proven the efficiency of artificial intelligence techniques in learning the known chemical space and generating novel small molecules. In this study, we employed deep neural network-based generative and predictive models for de novo design of new small molecules capable of inhibiting the 3CL protease. The generated small molecules were filtered and screened against the binding site of the 3CL protease structure of SARS-CoV-2. Based on the screening results and further analysis, we have identified 31 potential compounds as ideal candidates for further synthesis and testing against SARS-CoV-2. The generated small molecules were also compared with available natural products. Two of the generated small molecules showed high similarity to a plant natural product, Aurantiamide, which can be used for rapid testing during this time of crisis.