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During the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, a wave of rapid and collaborative drug discovery efforts took place in academia and industry, culminating in several therapeutics being discovered, approved and deployed in a 2-year time frame. This article summarizes the collective experience of several pharmaceutical companies and academic collaborations that were active in severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) antiviral discovery. We outline our opinions and experiences on key stages in the small-molecule drug discovery process: target selection, medicinal chemistry, antiviral assays, animal efficacy and attempts to pre-empt resistance. We propose strategies that could accelerate future efforts and argue that a key bottleneck is the lack of quality chemical probes around understudied viral targets, which would serve as a starting point for drug discovery. Considering the small size of the viral proteome, comprehensively building an arsenal of probes for proteins in viruses of pandemic concern is a worthwhile and tractable challenge for the community.

Original publication




Journal article


Nat Rev Drug Discov

Publication Date