Cure for the common cold? Incredible molecule shows real promise

14 May 2018

Image: sirtravelalot/Shutterstock

Are we finally closer to stopping the common cold in its tracks? A newly tested molecule appears to offer real hope.

While an uncomfortable nuisance for the vast majority of people, the common cold can be life-threatening for those living with serious illnesses and immune deficiencies.

Caused by a family of viruses with hundreds of variants, it is nearly impossible to treat, as no single vaccination exists against it, meaning people resort to treating the symptoms rather than the virus itself.

However, a major breakthrough achieved by a team from Imperial College London could help pave the way for an actual cure by stopping the virus before it can even develop.

In a paper published to Nature Chemistry, the team detailed its new molecule, which targets N-myristoyltransferase (NMT), a protein in human cells.

Viruses typically ‘hijack’ NMT from human cells to construct the capsid – or protein shell – to protect the virus genome.

Any virus needs this same human protein to make new copies of itself and, as this new molecule can target NMT, it can work against the common cold.

Common cold inhaler

Additionally, the molecule also works against viruses related to the cold virus, such as polio and foot-and-mouth disease.

By targeting the human protein and not the virus itself, the molecule makes the emergence of resistant viruses highly unlikely.

Previous attempts to create drugs that target human cells rather than the virus have proven to be failures, while also showing themselves to be toxic.

This new molecule, however, completely blocked several strains of the virus without affecting human cells, but further studies are needed to make sure it is not in any way toxic to humans.

“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 lead researcher on the project, Prof Ed Tate.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic