Varicella zoster virus (VZV) infection causes severe disease such as chickenpox, shingles, and postherpetic neuralgia, often leading to disability. Reactivation of latent VZV is associated with a decrease in specific cellular immunity in the elderly and in patients with immunodeficiency. However, due to the limited efficacy of existing therapy and the emergence of antiviral resistance, it has become necessary to develop new and effective antiviral drugs for the treatment of diseases caused by VZV, particularly in the setting of opportunistic infections. The goal of this work is to identify potent oxazole derivatives as anti-VZV agents by machine learning, followed by their synthesis and experimental validation. Predictive QSAR models were developed using the Online Chemical Modeling Environment (OCHEM). Data on compounds exhibiting antiviral activity were collected from the ChEMBL and uploaded in the OCHEM database. The predictive ability of the models was tested by cross-validation, giving coefficient of determination q = 0.87-0.9. The validation of the models using an external test set proves that the models can be used to predict the antiviral activity of newly designed and known compounds with reasonable accuracy within the applicability domain (q = 0.83-0.84). The models were applied to screen a virtual chemical library with expected activity of compounds against VZV. The 7 most promising oxazole derivatives were identified, synthesized, and tested. Two of them showed activity against the VZV Ellen strain upon primary in vitro antiviral screening. The synthesized compounds may represent an interesting starting point for further development of the oxazole derivatives against VZV. The developed models are available online at OCHEM and can be used to virtually screen for potential compounds with anti-VZV activity.
© 2023. The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature.