Early-stage research has identified a compound that stops pesky colds in their tracks – useful as a potential cold cure. Although adults are bothered by an average of 2-3 colds per year, colds can “cause serious complications in people with conditions like asthma and [chronic obstructive pulmonary disease] (COPD),” lead researcher Edward Tate, Chemical Biology Professor at the Imperial College London, told ScienceDaily. “A drug like this could be extremely beneficial if given early in infection.”

The common cold is caused by many different viruses, with the most common being rhinovirus. Because there are over 100 subtypes of rhinoviruses, it’s hard to develop an effective drug against all of them – one of the reasons there is no cure for a cold yet. Viruses also evolve rapidly, making them hard to effectively target with drugs.

That’s where this compound breaks through – it targets a human enzyme (N-myristoyltransferase) that all rhinoviruses need to survive. Viruses usually hijack the enzyme to help make new copies of themselves. Inhibiting the enzyme and cutting off the virus’ ability to replicate would reduce the virus’ infectivity.

By targeting the human enzyme, a broad-spectrum drug can be made that is harder for the virus to develop resistance to and is effective against all the rhinovirus subtypes. Even better, this compound is effective against viruses in the same family as rhinoviruses, such as poliovirus and hepatitis A virus. The best news? This compound seems to completely prevent viral replication without being toxic when added to human cells before, during, and after viral infection.

But is this compound too good to be true? It has only been tested in human cells in the lab so far, so we don’t know quite yet.

“This is an innovative strategy for combating the common cold, but it may have negative side-effects in humans by inhibiting an important enzyme involved in other cellular processes. However, these side-effects may be a small price to pay for protection for those whose common cold may be life-threatening,” commented Jenna Collier, an Immunology Ph.D. student at Harvard University, who was not involved in this study.

However, this research is in the very early stages, far away from becoming a drug.

Peter Barlow, spokesperson for the British Society for Immunology, who was not involved in this study, told Newsweek, “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.”


Acknowledgements: Thank you to Jenna Collier for her commentary on the implications of this compound as a cold medication.

Managing Correspondent: Chelsea Weidman

Press Article: Researchers Develop a Drug Against the Common Cold. The Scientist.

New chemical compound ‘stops common cold in its tracks’. The Guardian.

Drug target for curing the common cold. BBC News.

Original Journal Article: Fragment-derived inhibitors of human N-myristoyltransferase block capsid assembly and replication of the common cold virus. Nature Chemistry.

Image Credit: cdc.gov

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