Antiviral evaluation of hydroxyethylamine analogs: Inhibitors of SARS-CoV-2 main protease (3CLpro), a virtual screening and simulation approach

Yash Gupta, Sumit Kumar, Samantha E. Zak, Krysten A. Jones, Charu Upadhyay, Neha Sharma, Saara Anne Azizi, Rahul S. Kathayat, Poonam, Andrew S. Herbert, Ravi Durvasula, Bryan C. Dickinson, John M. Dye, Brijesh Rathi, Prakasha Kempaiah

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The continued toll of COVID-19 has halted the smooth functioning of civilization on a global scale. With a limited understanding of all the essential components of viral machinery and the lack of structural information of this new virus, initial drug discovery efforts had limited success. The availability of high-resolution crystal structures of functionally essential SARS-CoV-2 proteins, including 3CLpro, supports the development of target-specific therapeutics. 3CLpro, the main protease responsible for the processing of viral polypeptide, plays a vital role in SARS-CoV-2 viral replication and translation and is an important target in other coronaviruses. Additionally, 3CLpro is the target of repurposed drugs, such as lopinavir and ritonavir. In this study, target proteins were retrieved from the protein data bank (PDB IDs: 6 M03, 6LU7, 2GZ7, 6 W63, 6SQS, 6YB7, and 6YVF) representing different open states of the main protease to accommodate macromolecular substrate. A hydroxyethylamine (HEA) library was constructed from harvested chemical structures from all the series being used in our laboratories for screening against malaria and Leishmania parasites. The database consisted of ∼1000 structure entries, of which 70% were new to ChemSpider at the time of screening. This in-house library was subjected to high throughput virtual screening (HTVS), followed by standard precision (SP) and then extra precision (XP) docking (Schrodinger LLC 2021). The ligand strain and complex energy of top hits were calculated by Molecular Mechanics Generalized Born Surface Area (MM/GBSA) method. Promising hit compounds (n = 40) specifically binding to 3CLpro with high energy and average MM/GBSA scores were then subjected to (100-ns) MD simulations. Using this sequential selection followed by an in-silico validation approach, we found a promising HEA-based compound (N,N'-((3S,3′S)-piperazine-1,4-diylbis(3-hydroxy-1-phenylbutane-4,2-diyl))bis(2-(5-methyl-1,3-dioxoisoindolin-2-yl)-3-phenylpropanamide)), which showed high in vitro antiviral activity against SARS-CoV-2. Further to reduce the size of the otherwise larger ligand, a pharmacophore-based predicted library of ∼42 derivatives was constructed, which were added to the previous compound library and rescreened virtually. Out of several hits from the predicted library, two compounds were synthesized, tested against SARS-CoV-2 culture, and found to have markedly improved antiviral activity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number116393
JournalBioorganic and Medicinal Chemistry
StatePublished - Oct 1 2021


  • 3CLpro
  • Antiviral assay
  • COVID-19
  • Hydroxyethylamine compound library
  • MD simulation
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Virtual screening

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Medicine
  • Molecular Biology
  • Pharmaceutical Science
  • Drug Discovery
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Organic Chemistry


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