Researchers find potential cure for the common cold

Say goodbye to missing out on your weekends sitting in bed with the sniffles, as researchers have found a potential cure for the common cold.

The team at Imperial College London have developed a novel molecule that can block the development of multiple strains of the common cold and hopes to move onto animal and human trials.

The common cold is caused by a family of viruses with hundreds of variants, making it almost impossible to become immune to or to vaccinate against all of them. It also evolves rapidly, meaning it can quickly gain resistance to drugs.

Due to these issues, most cold remedies merely treat the symptoms of the infection – such as runny nose, sore throat and fever – rather than tackling the virus itself.

However, the new molecule, developed by the researchers, targets N-myristoyltransferase (NMT), a protein in human cells. Viruses ‘hijack’ NMT from human cells to construct the protein ‘shell’, which protects the virus genome.

All strains of the virus need this same human protein to make new copies of themselves, so the molecule should work against all of them, according to the study.

Additionally, the molecule also works against viruses related to the cold virus, including polio and foot and mouth disease viruses.

The common cold strikes almost everyone at some point in time and it’s reported to cost billions every year due to doctor visits and missed days of work.

While most people eventually recover from their sniffing and congestion, a cold can trigger fatal illness in people with respiratory problems such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and cystic fibrosis.

Lead researcher Professor Ed Tate, from the Department of Chemistry at Imperial, said: “The common cold is an inconvenience for most of us, but can cause serious complications in people with conditions like asthma and COPD.

“A drug like this could be extremely beneficial if given early in infection, and we are working on making a version that could be inhaled, so that it gets to the lungs quickly.”

There have been previous attempts to create drugs that target human cells rather than the viruses, but many have the side-effect of being toxic. The researchers showed that the new molecule completely blocked several strains of the virus without affecting human cells. Further study is needed to make sure it is not toxic in the human body.

Professor Tate said: “The way the drug works means that we would need to be sure it was being used against the cold virus, and not similar conditions with different causes, to minimise the chance of toxic side effects.”

How long until we have the cure?

Professor Roberto Solari, from the Imperial National Heart and Lung Institute, part of the research team in London, said laboratory testing showed the compound was effective against the rhinovirus, the most common cause of the common cold.

“We block the virus being able to create a shell around itself, so the virus doesn’t replicate itself,” he told radio station 3AW.

However, any future cure is still in its early days, as the synthetic chemical has yet to be proved safe for human use. The next step is animal trials.

“Before going into people we have to do safety and toxicology studies to show that it’s safe to administer to people,” said Professor Solari.

“But at the moment we’re reasonably optimistic; it doesn’t look like a toxic compound.”

In its first formulation, researchers envisage that the molecule would be made into a throat spray, which people would use when symptoms are detected, similar to hay fever medication.

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