Small-Molecule Inhibitors of the Coronavirus Spike: ACE2 Protein-Protein Interaction as Blockers of Viral Attachment and Entry for SARS-CoV-2

Damir Bojadzic, Oscar Alcazar, Jinshui Chen, Sung Ting Chuang, Jose M. Condor Capcha, Lina A. Shehadeh, Peter Buchwald

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Inhibitors of the protein-protein interaction (PPI) between the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein and human ACE2 (hACE2), which acts as a ligand-receptor pair that initiates the viral attachment and cellular entry of this coronavirus causing the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, are of considerable interest as potential antiviral agents. While blockade of such PPIs with small molecules is more challenging than that with antibodies, small-molecule inhibitors (SMIs) might offer alternatives that are less strain- and mutation-sensitive, suitable for oral or inhaled administration, and more controllable/less immunogenic. Here, we report the identification of SMIs of this PPI by screening our compound library focused around the chemical space of organic dyes. Among promising candidates identified, several dyes (Congo red, direct violet 1, Evans blue) and novel druglike compounds (DRI-C23041, DRI-C91005) inhibited the interaction of hACE2 with the spike proteins of SARS-CoV-2 as well as SARS-CoV with low micromolar activity in our cell-free ELISA-type assays (IC50's of 0.2-3.0 μM), whereas control compounds, such as sunset yellow FCF, chloroquine, and suramin, showed no activity. Protein thermal shift assays indicated that the SMIs of interest identified here bind SARS-CoV-2-S and not hACE2. While dyes seemed to be promiscuous inhibitors, DRI-C23041 showed some selectivity and inhibited the entry of two different SARS-CoV-2-S expressing pseudoviruses into hACE2-expressing cells in a concentration-dependent manner with low micromolar IC50's (6-7 μM). This provides proof-of-principle evidence for the feasibility of small-molecule inhibition of PPIs critical for SARS-CoV-2 attachment/entry and serves as a first guide in the search for SMI-based alternative antiviral therapies for the prevention and treatment of diseases caused by coronaviruses in general and COVID-19 in particular.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalACS infectious diseases
StateAccepted/In press - 2021


  • ACE2
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • antiviral
  • coronavirus
  • protein-protein interaction
  • spike protein

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Infectious Diseases


Dive into the research topics of 'Small-Molecule Inhibitors of the Coronavirus Spike: ACE2 Protein-Protein Interaction as Blockers of Viral Attachment and Entry for SARS-CoV-2'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this