Drug molecule brings cure for the common cold closer

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Researchers have lab-tested a molecule that can combat the common cold virus by preventing it from hijacking human cells. The team is now looking forward to starting animal and human trials.

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

The common cold is caused by viruses with hundreds of variants, and these overwhelming numbers can hinder efforts to immunize or vaccinate ourselves against them. "New drug treatments for this virus [are] therefore urgently needed".

The drug, designed by Imperial College London, blocks a protein in human body cells which the cold virus hijacks to replicate itself. The molecule could also work against the poliovirus and the virus that causes foot and mouth disease.

The viruses can not become resistant to the molecule because it targets the human protein and not the virus.

Lead researcher Professor Ed Tate, from the Department of Chemistry at Imperial, said: "The common cold is an inconvenience for most of us, but can cause serious complications in people with conditions like asthma and COPD".

Users would have to take the drug early on in a cold infection, and the researchers are working on a version which could be inhaled.

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.

By contrast, the new molecule successfully blocked the several strains it was trialed against without damaging the human cells.

Roberto Solari, visiting Fellow at the National Heart & Lung Institute, says he's reasonably optimistic.

But while it is still early days in the Imperial College's research, there have been no such side effects from IMP-1088. Other pathogens and parasites also drawn to the protein, including the human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum. They found two compounds that seemed to work well together, so they combined them to make IMP-1088. Instead it suppresses a human enzyme that the virus relies on to construct its capsid shell.

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