Researchers at a British university believe they may have found a drug molecule that could eventually cure the common cold, something that has preoccupied science and pharmaceuticals for decades.
Colds are made up of a large family of different strains and it has therefore been difficult to vaccinate against all of them or become immune to them. In addition, the viruses that cause them can rapidly evolve, meaning they are quickly able to gain resistance to drugs developed against them. Treatments have long been focused on easing the symptoms.
For this study, a team at Imperial College London ignored the condition itself and instead looked at a human protein called N-myristoyltransferase (NMT). This is typically hijacked by cold viruses, which then use it to construct a protein shell that they can protect their genome with while they multiply inside human cells.
The researchers used a compound called IMP-1088 to target it directly and found that the molecule was able to successfully block the strains it was tested against from replicating without damaging the human cells that housed it in any way.
Importantly, because the compound targets the protein 'housing' and not cold viruses, it should work for all strains.
Writing in the journal Nature Chemistry, lead study author Professor Ed Tate said the drug will next be tested in animal trials before it is tested on humans. It is hoped that the molecule could be manufactured into a throat spray for use once cold symptoms are experienced.
In particular, the drug may be useful for sufferers of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. This also should be lucrative for pharmaceutical companies.
"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," said Professor Tate.
The common cold accounts for around 27 million days off work in the UK each year. The average adult will get two or three in a 12-month period, but children will experience up to five.