UCD Covid-19 Response

The UCD Community is rising to the challenge posed by the global pandemic

Protein mimic molecules to stop Covid-19 infection

Lead Researcher: Professor Denis Shields, UCD School of Medicine


Vaccines against Covid-19 can offer protection against the disease, but we don’t yet know how long they will work for in the long term, and if too few people are vaccinated it will reduce the overall protection. So we still need to have drugs that can stop the Covid-19 virus, SARS-CoV-2, from causing infection and illness. New research supported by Science Foundation Ireland will design and make short stretches of proteins called peptides, which can mimic the specific peptides that the virus uses to get inside our cells. The project will make these anti-SARS-Cov-2 peptides in such a way that they would be stable for use in medicine, and test them in the lab, to see if they can block SARS-CoV-2 from getting inside cells.

What is the issue?

While vaccines against the Covid-19 virus may offer protection against the disease, they may not have a high enough uptake, or long-lasting effectiveness. That means we will still need drugs that work against Covid-19, to make our health systems more resilient.

What will the research project do?

A project led by University College Dublin will use computer programmes to help them design short stretches of proteins called peptides that could mimic proteins on the surface of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19. The researchers will then make these new peptides, and analyse in the lab whether and how well they can stop SARS-CoV-2 from getting inside human cells and causing infection.

What will the impact be?

By rapidly designing drugs that can block the Covid-19 virus from entering human cells, the research will identify potential new medicines that can be further tested against Covid-19 in humans. 

Full Professor of Clinical Bioinformatics Denis Shields said: "This funding brings together three UCD and RCSI research teams in computational biology, virology and peptide chemistry. The vision of myself, Marc Devocelle and Virginie Gautier is that our project will contribute strongly to the arsenal of tools that scientists and doctors can use to tackle Covid-19 and other coronavirus illnesses."



Short linear motif candidates in the cell entry system used by SARS-CoV-2 and their potential therapeutic implications, Science Signalling, 12 January 2021; DOI 10.1126/scisignal.abd0334 


Press: 'SARS-CoV-2 virus hijacks protein machinery to enter cells and multiply,' (The Irish Times, RTE Radio na Gaeltachta, American Association for the Advancement of Science).


Project Team

Lead Applicant Professor Denis Shields

Co-Applicant Professor Marc Devocelle, RCSI


Dr Virginie Gautier