Policy & Regulation
A cure for the common cold?
16 May 2018 -

It is believed that there are more than 200 types of virus strains that cause the common cold. Whether caught in the winter or the summer, a cold can cause a lot of misery. With symptoms including a blocked or runny nose, sore throat, headaches, coughs, sneezing, increased temperature, muscle aches, and pressure in your ears and face, common colds can cause a great annoyance for sufferers, leaving them feeling run down.

Due to the common cold being caused by a family of viruses with hundreds of variants, it is nearly impossible to for people to become immune or be vaccinated against them all. Making matters worse, the viruses evolve rapidly, meaning they quickly gain resistance to drugs. This lack of treatment targeting the virus means that the majority of cold remedies simply treat the symptoms of the infection.

However, researchers at Imperial College London could finally provide cold sufferers with the solution after early lab-based tests discovered a molecule that can combat the common cold virus by preventing it from hijacking human cells.

The molecule developed by the researchers targets N-myristoyltransferase (NMT), a protein in human cells. NMT is 'hijacked' by viruses to construct the protein 'shell', or capsid, which protects the virus genome.

All strains of the common cold virus use the same human protein to make new copies of themselves, so the researchers believe the molecule has the potential to work against all of them. They also believe the molecule could work against viruses related to the cold virus, such as polio and foot and mouth disease.

As the molecule targets the human protein, as opposed to the virus itself, it is highly unlikely that resistant viruses will emerge.

Lead researcher from Imperial's Department of Chemistry, Professor Ed Tate, commented: "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."

Previous attempts to create treatments targeting human cells instead of viruses have been toxic. While the researchers were able to demonstrate that this new molecule was able to completely block several strains of the virus without affecting human cells, further tests will be required to ensure it is not toxic in the body.

Professor Tate explained: "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."

The research team included the labs of Professor Roberto Solari and Professor Seb Johnston at Imperial's National Heart & Lung Institute, Dr Aurelie Mousnier from Imperial and Queen's University Belfast, structural biologists at the University of York, and colleagues at the Pirbright Institute.

The results of the initial tests have been published in the journal Nature Chemistry. The research team hopes to advance to animal and human trials.



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