Particle physics comes to the aid of global bid to find COVID-19 drug
Shini Somara

A UK particle accelerator, a "synchrotron," is being used to identify how COVID-19 reproduces, in another sign that scientists from all over the world are working together like never before to find an effective drug to control the coronavirus.

Diamond Light Source – the UK's national synchrotron science facility – is applying its knowledge and expertise to understand the structure of the virus and assist with the discovery of a treatment.

A synchrotron accelerates particles, almost to the speed of light, which creates an intense bright light that allows scientists to closely examine the basic structure of atoms and in this case the make-up of viruses.   

Scientists studying the protein structures of the virus have worked out which ones have an important role in its life cycle. The next stage is to disrupt this reproduction from taking place. 

They are concentrating on a protease, an enzyme that is essential for viral replication and therefore part of the virus that could be targeted with a drug. 

The company's XChem lab is screening chemical compounds that can bind to the protein and then be used to build upon by chemists to design drugs that can disrupt the virus from working.  

The research is part of the global COVID Moonshot collaboration, which aims to develop a clinically effective antiviral drug more rapidly than ever before – by crowdsourcing designs of new inhibitors from chemists around the world.