QBI Coronavirus Research Group races toward a cure

The COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the globe today is caused by a virus consisting of little more than a short strand of genetic instructions encased in a bubble of protein. But this virus packs a punch because of how it commandeers its human hosts to do its bidding. In fact, human proteins are responsible for helping the virus infect human cells, replicate, and ultimately spread between people.

Scientists at the UCSF Quantitative Biosciences Institute (QBI) have spent many years studying how all types of pathogens interact with human proteins, in the hope of finding better treatments for disease. QBI is an Organized Research Unit in the School of Pharmacy.

Just as the threat of COVID-19 was becoming clear back in January, QBI Director Nevan Krogan, PhD, a faculty member in the UCSF School of Medicine’s Department of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology, rallied over 100 researchers at UCSF and beyond to apply their expertise to the growing pandemic.

Dubbed the QBI Coronavirus Research Group, or QCRG, Krogan’s team set out to uncover the human proteins enabling the spread of the virus—and to identify existing drugs that target these human proteins, preventing the virus from hijacking them in the first place. In mere weeks, QCRG identified nearly 70 existing drugs that meet these criteria.

Member of the QBI Coronavirus Research Group

The 22 principal investigators who have joined forces as part of the QBI Coronavirus Research Group.

The effort has received considerable national media coverage in The New York Times and on ABC News, and it was recently highlighted in a UCSF News online feature. Krogan described the work for The Conversation, and Jacqueline Fabius, the chief operating officer of QBI, also shared her account with family and friends.

Thanks to virtual meetings and an unprecedented depth of expertise across the team, QCRG has already published its first findings and made its data available freely to labs around the world. Research groups in New York and France are now testing some of the drug candidates identified by Krogan’s team in the laboratory against live coronavirus. The progress has impressed Krogan himself. “It’s remarkable, when people are open to collaboration, the speed at which you can get things done,” he told UCSF News.



School of Pharmacy, Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences, PharmD Degree Program

About the School: The UCSF School of Pharmacy aims to solve the most pressing health care problems and strives to ensure that each patient receives the safest, most effective treatments. Our discoveries seed the development of novel therapies, and our researchers consistently lead the nation in NIH funding. The School’s doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) degree program, with its unique emphasis on scientific thinking, prepares students to be critical thinkers and leaders in their field.