Cure for Common Cold a Step Closer as Scientists Create New Virus-Blocking Molecule

Scientists hope a new molecule which blocks the viruses which cause the common cold could one day consign the irritating condition to history.

The common cold is tough to treat and vaccinate against because the symptoms are triggered by almost 200 different quickly evolving viruses. The best line of defense is good hygiene practices to prevent it from spreading, and simply managing the dreaded runny nose, scratchy throat and general sense of malaise for the 10 days it can take to fully recover.

A new study has presented the latest step toward finding a treatment, as scientists have developed a molecule which has been shown to block several strains of rhinovirus, the most common type of respiratory virus.

Scientists believe a new molecule could pave the way for a treatment for the common cold. Getty Images

In early tests on human cells, researchers at Imperial College London created a molecule which targets a protein that viruses latch onto to create a protective shell, which enables them to multiply.

As every strain of the common cold uses the protein, known as N-myristoyltransferase (NMT), in this way, the molecule codenamed IMP-1088 has the potential to combat them all. And as the molecule affects the protein rather than the virus, it is unlikely the agents will become resistant to it.

Scientists set about investigating whether a molecule could prevent common cold viruses from hijacking human cells following a similar study into malaria parasites.

Previous attempts to create drugs which engage with human cells rather than the virus itself have failed because they were found to be too dangerous. However, initial lab results suggest the new molecule does not negatively affect human cells.

The team hope that their results can be replicated in animal and human trials. If successful, related viruses, such as foot and mouth and polio, could also be treated with IMP-1088.

Ed Tate, professor of chemical biology at Imperial College London and co-author of the study, said in a statement: "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."

Common colds are the biggest cause of work and school absenteeism in the U.S., with millions of cases reported each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tate highlighted that while the common cold is an inconvenience for most people, it can cause serious complications for people with conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

"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 minimize the chance of toxic side effects," Tate said.

Scientists at Imperial College London as well as Queen's University Belfast, the University of York and the Pirbright Institute collaborated on the study published in the journal Nature Chemistry.

Dr. Peter Barlow, associate professor of immunology and infection at Edinburgh Napier University and spokesperson for the British Society for Immunology, told Newsweek: "This inhibitor [IMP-1088] appears to interfere with the ability of rhinovirus to replicate inside the cells of the host, which is an essential part of the virus life cycle. Because the inhibitor targets proteins that are common to most types of rhinovirus, it would likely have a broad range of activity, and be effective in treating rhinovirus infections in patients with existing lung conditions, such as asthma and cystic fibrosis.

"While this study was conducted entirely in vitro, i.e. using cells to model rhinovirus infection in the laboratory, it shows great promise in terms of eventually developing a drug treatment to combat the effects of this virus in patients."