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Compounds synthesised in York could provide clue in the hunt for new treatments against Coronavirus

Posted on 5 May 2020

Researchers at the University of York have synthesised compounds that can bind to one of the key proteins in the COVID-19 virus. The discovery could pave the way for new drug treatments to fight the virus.

York fragment bound to COVID-19 protein Credit: Rod Hubbard

The team  -  led by Professor Peter O’Brien from the Department of Chemistry  - made the discovery as part of their research programme synthesising 3-dimensional molecular ‘fragments’  for use in drug discovery.


More than 100 of the research programme’s ‘fragments’ are part of a national library which was recently screened by a scientific team trying to find starting points to develop therapeutics in the fight against the current COVID -19 outbreak.

The team of researchers, working at UK’s national synchrotron science facility, were able to identify around 60 compounds that could bind to a key protein in the COVID 19 virus. Two of the fragments were synthesised by PhD students, Tom Downes and Paul Jones, in Professor O’Brien’s research team.


Professor O’Brien said “It was great to see our 3-dimensional fragments turn up as hits in this screen, not least as this is the culmination of several years of synthetic work. 

“It was especially exciting given their potential to ultimately generate new therapeutics targeting COVID-19 or other Coronaviruses that may emerge in the future.”


The fragment, together with the other bound fragments from the screen, could provide a starting point for the development of better binding compounds by applying the techniques of fragment-based drug discovery. This would be the next step in the development of potential therapeutics.


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Our response to the coronavirus pandemic

We're working with partners in York and further afield as part of a global effort to fight the COVID-19 virus. From covid analysis in the labs to producing face shields for the frontline, we're using our knowledge and expertise to support the effort.