Not Treating but Curing the Common Cold

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Not Treating but Curing the Common Cold

woman with common cold/ Photo By Shao-Chun Wang via 123RF


For all the advances made in medical science in the last century, one of the most bafflingly elusive virus to defeat has been that of the common cold. Its innocuousness is often mistaken for simplicity, but the feat of actually curing or preempting the cold virus has always proven to be far easier said than done. Recently, however, researchers discovered a molecule that they believe has the potential to finally answer the common cold, and there’s already movement in the private sector to move toward clinical trials for a drug that uses this molecule in an innovative way to combat the common cold with unparalleled efficiency.

This all comes in an era after the launch of the Common Cold Project back in 2011 at Carnegie Mellon University. It was a research endeavor consisting of five studies all focused on compiling a data repository. They documented, created and cached data for a capstone study derived from 5 relevant viral-challenge studies conducted within the previous quarter-century. The scope of that data was such that it’s expected to serve scientists in multiple disciplines. This is just one of many institutionalized efforts human beings have made to decode and eradicate the common cold virus.

Now, scientists have discovered new functions for a molecule that can fight the virus by keeping it from latching onto human cells. Preliminary lab tests with human cells indicated that the molecule can fully impede several different strains of the cold virus, which is really a family of viruses that have hundreds of variants a piece. That’s why it’s been next to impossible to fabricate any kind of pseudo-immunity to such things or vaccinate against them. The power of vaccines, which is constantly under scrutiny in America with their recent wave of anti-vaccine rhetoric, is in no way subject to the cold, but what we call the common cold is really an incredibly massive network of different viruses altogether. Each would, therefore, require its own vaccine in order for us to fight it that way.

Vaccination, therefore, is just an inefficient tool for fighting the common cold. The better way to handle it, researchers have found, is to attack the method by which these viruses operate. Of course, medical scientists have been of this mind for some time now, which is why most cold remedies are really the best attempts at attacking the virus’s tactics that anyone knew how to mount. Unfortunately, the best we could do in that regard, though, was treating symptoms. This new molecule, N-myristoyltransferase or NMT, is just a protein that our cells naturally produce on a regular basis, yet scientists at Imperial College London have discovered that it is the key to truly disrupting the way the cold virus operates.

Viruses get in human cells and take control of NMT, using it to build a capsid to protect the virus genome as a sort of physical shell. Every virus strain needs NMT in order to copy itself, which is why reverse engineering NMT to work against the virus as originally intended is the best way to deal with all strains. NMT targets human protein rather than the virus, so it’s improbable that resistant strains would result from this course of action either. “The common cold is an inconvenience for most of us, but can cause serious complications in people with conditions like asthma and COPD. A drug like this could be extremely beneficial if given early infection, and we are working on making a version that could be inhaled so that it gets to the lungs quickly,” says Ed Tate, lead researcher on the Imperial College London study.


woman experiencing cold/ Photo By racorn via 123RF


This is hardly the first time medical science has produced drugs targeting human cells instead of targeting the viruses themselves. It’s to be expected given how many viruses pose this same threat. Those drugs in the past, however, have been toxic, and the new study shows that NMT, which isn’t toxic, thoroughly impeded multiple strains of the cold virus without having any observable effects on human cells. To be fair, scientists are still analyzing the drug from all angles to be sure that there is no hidden toxicity yet to be discovered, but the fact that such scrutiny is warranted speaks to its relative innocuousness compared to those past drugs.

According to Tate, “The way the drug works means that we would need to be sure it was being used against the cold virus, and not some similar conditions with different causes, to minimize the chance of toxic side effects.” His medicinal chemistry team, which was only a segment of the research team as a whole, was led by the inventor of Viagra, Dr. Andy Bell, who was previously a researcher for Pfizer, one of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in the world. Bell had them looking for protein-targeting compounds in malaria parasites at first. They sifted through troves of compounds in order to find two consistent with what they sought.

The moral of the story, of course, revolves around the efficacy of the new drug against the common cold as we know it. It has long seemed like a funny paradox that, with all the incredible advancements made in medical science in recent decades, the common cold was still at large. At this point, though, the common cold is all but declared cured for all intents and purposes as the researchers continue to labor over their findings. These researchers include Seb Johnston’s lab as well as that of Roberto Salari; both of which are at the National Heart & Lung Institute, which is an arm of Imperial.



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