Direct ACE2- Spike RBD Binding Disruption with Small Molecules: A Strategy for COVID-19 Treatment

ACE2 is a key receptor for SARS-CoV-2 cell entry. Binding of SARS-Cov-2 to ACE2 involves the viral Spike protein. The molecular interaction between ACE2 and Spike has been resolved. Interfering with this interaction might be used in treating patients with COVID-19. Inhibition of this interaction can be attained via multiple routes: here we focus on identifying small molecules that would prevent the interaction. Specifically we focus on small molecules and peptides that have the capacity to effectively bind the ACE2: RBD contact domain to prevent and reduce SARS-CoV-2 entry into the cell. We aim to identify molecules that prevent the docking of viral spike protein (mediated by RBD) onto cells expressing ACE2, without inhibiting the activity of ACE2. We utilize the most recent ACE2-RBD crystallography resolved model (PDB-ID:6LZG). Based on animal susceptibility data we narrowed down our interest to the location of amino acid 34 (Histidine) located on ACE2. We performed an in silico screen of a chemical library of compounds with several thousand small molecules including FDA approved compounds. All compounds were tested for binding to the proximal binding site located close to histidine 34 on ACE2. We report a list of four potential small molecules that potentially have the capacity to bind target residue: AY-NH2, a selective PAR4 receptor agonist peptide (CAS number: 352017-71-1), NAD+ (CAS number: 53-84-9), Reproterol, a short-acting β2 adrenoreceptor agonist used in the treatment of asthma (CAS number: 54063-54-6), and Thymopentin, a synthetic immune-stimulant which enhances production of thymic T cells (CAS number: 69558-55-0). The focus is on a High Throughput Screen Assay (HTSA), or in silico screen, delineating small molecules that are selectively binding/masking the crucial interface residue on ACE2 at His34. Consequently, inhibiting SARS-CoV-2 binding to host ACE2 and viral entry is a potent strategy to reduce cellular entry of the virus. We suggest that this anti-viral nature of this interaction is a viable strategy for COVID19 whereas the small molecules including peptides warrant further in vitro screens.