A team of researchers at Imperial College London has developed a novel molecule that can block the development of multiple strains of the common cold. Early in vitro tests with human cells are showing exciting results and the team hopes to move to animal and human studies soon.
The common cold is something that strikes down everyone at some point and it's reported to cost the world economy billions every year due to physician visits and missed days of work. Millions of people every year also receive unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions from doctors for the common cold making it a major source of our growing antibiotic resistance problem. So as well as being dangerous for many older or immunosuppressed people, it's also a major drag on the the world's medical systems.
Over 200 viral strains are responsible for the common cold, making it frustratingly challenging for scientists to target. The viruses are also known to evolve incredibly fast, adding another layer of difficulty in developing effective treatments.
Producing a traditional vaccine for the common cold has proved to be a futile exercise but researchers at Imperial College may have discovered a novel new way to target the common cold and prevent its ability to replicate. When a cold virus replicates, it takes a protein called N-myristoyltransferase (NMT) from host cells to build its capsid, a protein shell that surrounds the virus's genome. It is this NMT protein that the researchers set their sights on.
They screened a large volume of different compounds looking for a molecule that specifically targeted NMT. Finding two specific compounds, the team produced a novel molecule called IMP-1088, which specifically inhibits NMT. In vitro testing using human cells found the new molecule completely blocked the replication of several cold virus strains.
"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," says lead researchers on the project, Ed Tate.
It's still early days for the research, with the molecule only shown to be effective in cell models, but the primary data is promising. In these human cell tests there was no sign of broader cytotoxicity and this NMT strategy could have applications for viral infections other than the common cold, including foot and mouth disease and poliovirus.
Further study, initially in animals, will be needed to better establish a safety profile for the molecule and Tate is realistic about the work ahead.
"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," he says.
Still, this is exciting research that could lead to a fast antiviral treatment that stops the common cold in its tracks, regardless of the strain. Because this kind of strategy targets the human protein that helps the virus replicate it means that any treatment developed should be effective against different strains of the virus that emerge, making this a truly universal common cold cure.
The research was published in the journal Nature Chemistry.
Source: Imperial College London
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