Doctors in Britain are zeroing in on a universal cure for the common cold

The common cold might get a bit less common if researchers from the U.K.’s Imperial College London have anything to do with it. They have developed and lab-tested a new molecule that could help battle the cold virus by stopping it from hijacking human cells. Although it’s still in the early stages, their solution has been shown to be effective at completely blocking multiple strains of the cold virus. If this is successfully extrapolated to humans, it could help stop burgeoning sniffles in their tracks.

“Rhinovirus is the most frequent cause of the common cold. In healthy people, this is not usually a serious illness, but if you have asthma, COPD, or cystic fibrosis, this can trigger a significant worsening of your symptoms,” Dr. Roberto Solari at Imperial’s National Heart and Lung Institute, told Digital Trends. “There is currently no vaccine to prevent rhinovirus, and no antiviral drugs to treat it. Like all viruses, RV exploits the machinery of our cells to make new copies of itself and so spread. It has been known since the 1980s that the polio virus, which is a related virus to RV, uses an enzyme from our cells to add a small fat molecule to one its coat proteins. These form the outer shell of the virus. We have made a chemical inhibitor of this enzyme, and found that it blocks the formation of new viruses.”

The challenge with developing a cure to the common cold is that it is caused not by one virus, but by hundreds of variants. While we can develop immunity or resistance to a few of these, it’s almost impossible to do so against all of them. The viruses also rapidly evolve, which allows them to gain resistance to drugs. As a result of these factors, existing cold remedies mainly focus on treating symptoms — such as sore throats and runny noses — rather than the actual virus.

However, the Imperial College research could change that since all strains of the cold virus nonetheless rely on the same protein to make copies of themselves. The molecule could therefore bring an end to the reign of terror of all cold strains — along with other not-insignificant viruses such as polio and foot and mouth disease.

“We are at the preclinical stage,” Solari said. “We have tested it in human cells. The molecule is very potent, but we need to perform additional studies to show its safety and efficacy before it can go into human volunteers.”

A paper describing the research is being published in the journal Nature Chemistry.

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