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Stapled peptides based on Human Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme 2 (ACE2) potently inhibit SARS-CoV-2 infection in vitro

By Francesca Curreli, Sofia M B Victor, Shahad Ahmed, Aleksandra Drelich, Xiaohe Tong, Chien-Te K Tseng, Christopher D Hillyer, Asim K Debnath

Posted 25 Aug 2020
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.08.25.266437

SARS-CoV-2 uses human angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) as the primary receptor to enter host cells and initiate the infection. The critical binding region of ACE2 is a ∼30 aa long helix. Here we report the design of four stapled peptides based on the ACE2 helix, which is expected to bind to SARS-CoV-2 and prevent the binding of the virus to the ACE2 receptor and disrupt the infection. All stapled peptides showed high helical contents (50-94% helicity). On the contrary, the linear control peptide NYBSP-C showed no helicity (19%). We have evaluated the peptides in a pseudovirus based single-cycle assay in HT1080/ACE2 and human lung cells A549/ACE2, overexpressing ACE2. Three of the four stapled peptides showed potent antiviral activity in HT1080/ACE2 (IC50: 1.9 – 4.1 µM) and A549/ACE2 cells (IC50: 2.2 – 2.8 µM). The linear peptides NYBSP-C and the double-stapled peptide StRIP16, used as controls, showed no antiviral activity. Most significantly, none of the stapled peptides show any cytotoxicity at the highest dose tested. We also evaluated the antiviral activity of the peptides by infecting Vero E6 cells with the replication-competent authentic SARS-CoV-2 (US_WA-1/2020). NYBSP-1 was the most efficient preventing the complete formation of cytopathic effects (CPEs) at an IC100 17.2 µM. NYBSP-2 and NYBSP-4 also prevented the formation of the virus-induced CPE with an IC100 of about 33 µM. We determined the proteolytic stability of one of the most active stapled peptides, NYBSP-4, in human plasma, which showed a half-life (T1/2) of >289 min. ### Competing Interest Statement The authors have declared no competing interest.

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