Researchers target bat genes in quest for drug to combat Covid-19

William Zheng

A multinational research team has identified a gene inhibitor in bats that could have potential in the search for antiviral drugs to treat the pandemic disease Covid-19.

In a research paper published online on Monday, scientists from China, Singapore and the United States said carolacton, which inhibits a specific bat gene, could help suppress the infection of Sars-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19.

The joint paper was published on online archive bioRxiv by researchers from Tsinghua University, the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences as well as teams from Singapore’s Duke – NUS Medical School and Duke University.

The paper has not been peer reviewed.

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The team examined the gene functions of the black fruit bat and found that carolacton inhibited MTHFD1, a key gene in the production of purine, a critical element in viral replication in both bats and people.

The team said MTHFD1 could be a potential target for developing broad-spectrum antiviral drugs.

“MTHFD1 knockdown blocks replication of multiple RNA viruses, including influenza virus, mumps virus, Melaka virus and Zika virus,” the paper said.

“Importantly, host cells have a higher tolerance for MTHFD1 inhibition than viruses, potentially providing a therapeutic window for targeting MTHFD1 with antiviral drugs.

“We tested the effect of carolacton on the infection of Sars-CoV-2 … [The result] supports a therapeutic window of this compound in potential clinical applications.”

The researchers said the development of an antiviral drug for Covid-19 would be similar to developing cancer drugs, because those drugs also targeted specific genes that cancer cells needed.

Bats have been identified as a reservoir of a number of deadly viruses in humans, including Ebola, severe acute respiratory syndrome, and Covid-19, which has infected more than 700,000 people, killing more than 34,000.

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