UK scientists believe they may have found a way to combat the common cold. Rather than attacking the virus itself, which comes in hundreds of versions, the treatment targets the human host.
It blocks a key protein in the body’s cells that cold viruses normally hijack to self-replicate and spread.
This should stop any cold virus in its tracks if given early enough, lab studies suggest. Safety trials in people could start within two years.
The Imperial College London researchers are working on making a form of the drug that can be inhaled, to reduce the chance of side-effects.
In the lab, it worked within minutes of being applied to human lung cells, targeting a human protein called NMT, Nature Chemistry journal reports.
All strains of cold virus need this human protein to make new copies of themselves.
Researcher Prof Ed Tate said: “The idea is that we could give it to someone when they first become infected and it would stop the virus being able to replicate and spread.
Cold viruses are not only plentiful and diverse, they also evolve rapidly, meaning they can quickly develop resistance to drugs.
The test drug completely blocked several strains of cold virus without appearing to harm the human cells in the lab. Further studies are needed to make sure it is not toxic in the body though.
Dr Peter Barlow of the British Society for Immunology said: “While this study was conducted entirely in vitro – 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.”
Fighting a cold
Colds spread very easily from person to person. And the viruses that cause the infections can live on hands and surfaces for 24 hours.
Painkillers and cold remedies might help ease the symptoms. But currently there is nothing that will halt the infection.