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Identification of druggable host dependency factors shared by multiple SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern.

The high mutation rate of SARS-CoV-2 leads to the emergence of multiple variants, some of which are resistant to vaccines and drugs targeting viral elements. Targeting host dependency factors, e.g. cellular proteins required for viral replication, would help prevent resistance. However, it remains unclear whether different SARS-CoV-2 variants induce conserved cellular responses and exploit the same core host factors. To this end, we compared three variants of concern and found that the host transcriptional response was conserved, differing only in kinetics and magnitude. Through CRISPR screening, we identified host genes required for infection by each variant. Most of the genes were shared by multiple variants. We validated our hits with small molecules and repurposed Food and Drug Administration-approved drugs. All the drugs were highly active against all the variants tested, including new variants that emerged during the study (Delta and Omicron). Mechanistically, we identified reactive oxygen species production as a key step in early virus replication. Antioxidants such as N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) were effective against all the variants in both human lung cells and a humanised mouse model. Our study supports the use of available antioxidant drugs, such as NAC, as a general and effective anti-COVID-19 approach.

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