Potential Drug Candidates for SARS-CoV-2 Using Computational Screening and Enhanced Sampling Methods

Here we report new chemical entities that are highly specific in binding towards the 3-chymotrypsin- like cysteine protease (3CLpro) protein present in the novel SARS-CoV2 virus. The viral 3CLpro

protein controls coronavirus replication. Therefore, 3CLpro is identified as a target for drug molecules. We have implemented an enhanced sampling method in combination with molecular dynamics and docking to bring down the computational screening search space to four molecules that could be synthesised and tested against COVID-19. Our computational method is much more robust than any other method available for drug screening e.g., docking, because of sampling of the free energy surface of the binding site of the protein (including the ligand) and use of explicit solvent. We have considered all possible interactions between all the atoms present in the protein, ligands, and water. Using high performance computing with graphical processing units we are able to perform large number of simulations within a month's time and converge to 4 most strongly bound ligands (by free energy and other scores) from a set of 17 ligands with lower docking scores. Based on our results and analysis, we claim with high confidence, that we have identified four potential ligands. Out of those, one particular ligand is the most promising candidate, based on free energy data, for further synthesis and testing against SARS-CoV-2 and might be effective for the cure of COVID-19.