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A Cure For The Common Cold Is On The Horizon

The cure for the common cold has been niggling scientists like a tickly throat for decades, but after many long winters searching for a viable treatment, a team of UK-based researchers might have finally made a massive breakthrough.

Recent lab tests have shown how a molecule is able to fight the common cold virus by preventing it from hijacking human cells, as reported in the journal Nature Chemistry. It’s early days for the research, so far only tested out in a petri-dish, but the scientists on the project are hoping to swiftly move to animal and then human trials.

In over half of cases, common colds are caused by rhinoviruses, a family of viruses with over 100 different ever-evolving variants. This means it is very hard to pin down a drug that works against the virus. Even if one does work, the virus can quickly evolve to gain resistance to it.

However, the discovery of a new molecule, code-named IMP-1088, offers a slightly different approach to the problem by treating the human cells. It targets a protein in human cells, known as N-myristoyltransferase (NMT), that viruses steal from human cells to create their protective capsid by preventing any fatty-acid attachment. Without the protein, the virus is unable to hijack the human host cells and proliferate.

“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,” Dr Jim Brannigan, from the University of York’s Department of Chemistry, said in a statement. “Additionally, the molecule also works against viruses related to the cold virus, such as polio and foot and mouth disease viruses.

“The drug inhibits a host protein so the virus cannot evade its force by mutation and is unable to evolve resistance.”

A 1913 poster about the common cold. Wellcome Collection (CC BY 4.0)

The research showed that this molecule is over 100 times more potent than previous molecules targeting the protein in humans. In Vitro experiments have also found no sign of toxic effect on the treated cells.

Independent expert Dr Peter Barlow, Associate Professor in Immunology & Infection at Edinburgh Napier University, said the research “shows great promise.

“In addition to causing cold symptoms in healthy adults, Rhinovirus has also been associated with exacerbations of asthma and other respiratory conditions such as cystic fibrosis, and can be quite a dangerous infection in people with compromised immune systems,” he explained.

“There are currently no drugs or vaccines for Rhinovirus that have been licensed for use in humans… New drug treatments for this virus [are] therefore urgently needed.”

So, with a few more years of research and clinical trials, it could soon be so long to the sniffles.

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