An Efficient Modern Strategy to Screen Drug Candidates Targeting RdRp of SARS-CoV-2 With Potentially High Selectivity and Specificity

Haiping Zhang, Xiaohua Gong, Yun Peng, Konda Mani Saravanan, Hengwei Bian, John Z.H. Zhang, Yanjie Wei, Yi Pan, Yang Yang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Desired drug candidates should have both a high potential binding chance and high specificity. Recently, many drug screening strategies have been developed to screen compounds with high possible binding chances or high binding affinity. However, there is still no good solution to detect whether those selected compounds possess high specificity. Here, we developed a reverse DFCNN (Dense Fully Connected Neural Network) and a reverse docking protocol to check a given compound’s ability to bind diversified targets and estimate its specificity with homemade formulas. We used the RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp) target as a proof-of-concept example to identify drug candidates with high selectivity and high specificity. We first used a previously developed hybrid screening method to find drug candidates from an 8888-size compound database. The hybrid screening method takes advantage of the deep learning-based method, traditional molecular docking, molecular dynamics simulation, and binding free energy calculated by metadynamics, which should be powerful in selecting high binding affinity candidates. Also, we integrated the reverse DFCNN and reversed docking against a diversified 102 proteins to the pipeline for assessing the specificity of those selected candidates, and finally got compounds that have both predicted selectivity and specificity. Among the eight selected candidates, Platycodin D and Tubeimoside III were confirmed to effectively inhibit SARS-CoV-2 replication in vitro with EC50 values of 619.5 and 265.5 nM, respectively. Our study discovered that Tubeimoside III could inhibit SARS-CoV-2 replication potently for the first time. Furthermore, the underlying mechanisms of Platycodin D and Tubeimoside III inhibiting SARS-CoV-2 are highly possible by blocking the RdRp cavity according to our screening procedure. In addition, the careful analysis predicted common critical residues involved in the binding with active inhibitors Platycodin D and Tubeimoside III, Azithromycin, and Pralatrexate, which hopefully promote the development of non-covalent binding inhibitors against RdRp.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number933102
JournalFrontiers in Chemistry
StatePublished - Jul 12 2022


  • RdRp
  • antiviral agent
  • compound specificity estimation
  • tubeimoside III
  • virtual screening

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry


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