Coronavirus And Cancer Hijack The Same Parts In Human Cells To Spread

Most antivirals in use today target parts of an invading virus itself. Unfortunately, SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes COVID-19 – has proven hard to kill. But viruses rely on cellular mechanisms in human cells to help them spread, so it should be possible to change an aspect of a person’s body to prevent that and slow down the virus enough to allow the immune system to fight the invader off.
A  quantitative biologist built a map of how the coronavirus uses human cells.  He used that map to find already existing drugs that could be repurposed to fight COVID-19 and has been working with an international group of researchers called the QBI Coronavirus Research Group to see if the identified drugs showed any promise. Many have.

For years, researchers have suspected that kinases – biological control switches that viruses use to take over cells – could be targeted to fight infections. Over the last few months, we built a second, more detailed map looking specifically for the kinases that the coronavirus is hijacking.

A few already existing cancer drugs have been identified which alter the function of the kinases that SARS-CoV-2 hijacks, and began testing them in coronavirus-infected cells. The results of these early tests are promising  and human clinical trials have begun.


This map shows how the coronavirus changes the function of kinases – cellular switches involved in most biological processes – and the proteins they control. It guided researchers from UCSF to cancer drugs that could fight COVID-19. 


Kinases are proteins found in every cell of our body. There are 518 human kinases, and they act as major control hubs for virtually all processes in the body. They are able to add a small marker – a process called phosphorylation – to other proteins and thus change how, if and when a phosphorylated protein can do its work.