Evaluation of SARS-CoV-2 Main Protease Inhibitors Using a Novel Cell-Based Assay. Academic Article uri icon


  • As an essential enzyme of SARS-CoV-2, main protease (MPro) triggers acute toxicity to its human cell host, an effect that can be alleviated by an MPro inhibitor. Using this toxicity alleviation, we developed an effective method that allows a bulk analysis of the cellular potency of MPro inhibitors. This novel assay is advantageous over an antiviral assay in providing precise cellular MPro inhibition information to assess an MPro inhibitor. We used this assay to analyze 30 known MPro inhibitors. Contrary to their strong antiviral effects and up to 10 M, 11a, calpain inhibitor II, calpain XII, ebselen, bepridil, chloroquine, and hydroxychloroquine showed relatively weak to undetectable cellular MPro inhibition potency implicating their roles in interfering with key steps other than just the MPro catalysis in the SARS-CoV-2 life cycle. Our results also revealed that MPI5, MPI6, MPI7, and MPI8 have high cellular and antiviral potency. As the one with the highest cellular and antiviral potency among all tested compounds, MPI8 has a remarkable cellular MPro inhibition IC50 value of 31 nM that matches closely to its strong antiviral effect with an EC50 value of 30 nM. Therefore, we cautiously suggest exploring MPI8 further for COVID-19 preclinical tests.

published proceedings

  • ACS Cent Sci

altmetric score

  • 3.6

author list (cited authors)

  • Cao, W., Cho, C., Geng, Z. Z., Shaabani, N., Ma, X. R., Vatansever, E. C., ... Liu, W. R.

citation count

  • 23

complete list of authors

  • Cao, Wenyue||Cho, Chia-Chuan Dean||Geng, Zhi Zachary||Shaabani, Namir||Ma, Xinyu R||Vatansever, Erol C||Alugubelli, Yugendar R||Ma, Yuying||Chaki, Sankar P||Ellenburg, William H||Yang, Kai S||Qiao, Yuchen||Allen, Robert||Neuman, Benjamin W||Ji, Henry||Xu, Shiqing||Liu, Wenshe Ray

publication date

  • January 2022