British researchers have developed a molecule they claim could make colds a thing of the past. In lab tests, this molecule blocked viruses that cause colds and prevented them from taking control of human cells.
“The common cold is an inconvenience for most of us, and can cause serious complications in people with conditions like asthma and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease),” said lead researcher Ed Tate, from Imperial College London’s department of chemistry.
“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,” Tate added.
The common cold is caused by a group of related viruses. There are hundreds of variants that evolve and gain resistance to drugs very quickly, making it nearly impossible to become fully immune or to vaccinate against all of them. Right now, there is no way to treat cold viruses directly. Instead, remedies focus on easing the symptoms caused by the viruses, such as congestion, sore throat and fever, the study authors noted.
Symptoms of a common cold usually appear one to three days after exposure to a cold-causing virus. Signs and symptoms, which can vary from person to person, might include: Runny or stuffy nose, Sore throat, Cough, Congestion, Slight body aches or a mild headache, Sneezing, Low-grade fever, Generally feeling unwell (malaise).
All viruses that cause the common cold rely on a protein in human cells called N-myristoyltransferase, to make copies of themselves. They hijack this protein to build a protective shell for their DNA. The new molecule targets this protein, the researchers explained.
The researchers believe this molecule holds promise as an “irresistible” cold cure. It could potentially work against the entire family of viruses responsible for the common cold, as well as related viruses, including polio and foot-and-mouth disease, the scientists suggested.
Previous molecules created to act on human cells were shown to cause harmful side effects. But the researchers said this new molecule appears to be safe for human cells, though more research is needed to confirm the findings.
“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.