Identification of Atovaquone and Mebendazole as Repurposed Drugs with Antiviral Activity against SARS-CoV-2 (Version 6)

06 September 2021, Version 7


Given the continuing heavy toll of the COVID-19 pandemic, therapeutic options for treatment are urgently needed. Here, we adopted a repositioning approach using in silico molecular modeling to screen FDA-approved drugs with established safety profiles for potential inhibitory effects against SARS-CoV-2. We used structure-based drug design to screen more than 2000 FDA approved drugs against SARS-CoV-2 main protease enzyme (Mpro) substrate-binding pocket. We additionally screened the top hits from both sites for potential covalent binding via nucleophilic thiol attack of Cys 145. High-scoring candidates were then screened for antiviral activity against infectious SARS-CoV-2 in a cell-based viral replication assay, and counter screened for toxicity. Promising candidates included atovaquone, mebendazole, ouabain, dronedarone, and entacapone, although atovaquone and mebendazole were the only two candidates with IC50s that fall within their therapeutic plasma concentration. In addition, we performed Mpro assays on the top hits, which demonstrated inhibition of Mpro by dronedarone (IC50 18 M), mebendazole (IC50 19 M) and entacapone (IC50 9 M). Atovaquone showed only modest Mpro inhibition, and thus we explored other potential antiviral mechanisms. Although atovaquone is a known DHODH inhibitor, we did not observe inhibition of DHODH by atovaquone at concentrations relevant to the SARS-CoV-2 IC50. Interestingly, metabolomic profiling of atovaquone treated cells demonstrated marked dysregulation of metabolites in the purine metabolism pathway. In summary, a number of our top hits from the in-silico screen demonstrated Mpro inhibitory activity associated with antiviral effects. Atovaquone and mebendazole are the most promising candidates targeting SARS-CoV-2 from our screen, however atovaquone did not significantly inhibit Mpro at therapeutically meaningful concentrations but may inhibit SARS-CoV-2 viral replication by targeting host purine metabolism.


FDA approved drugs
covalent docking
Viral Assays
Human Cells


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