Colds frozen out

By Lila Guterman A CURE for the common cold may be within reach after all. In a few months, researchers in California will test a drug that stops the cold virus replicating. This is a new approach: previous attempts focused on keeping the virus out of cells by blocking the interaction between the virus and cell surfaces. But there are more than 100 different varieties of the human rhinovirus with widely varying surface proteins, says Amy Patick, a virologist at Agouron Pharmaceuticals in La Jolla, so one drug couldn’t work against them all. Instead, her team decided to target 3C protease, the enzyme that lets the virus replicate itself inside cells. Protease inhibitors are best known for the way they revolutionised treatment of HIV by disabling its protease enzyme. Patick’s team designed a compound that binds to 3C protease of the rhinovirus and disables it. Adding the compound to infected cells stopped them dying, Patick reported at the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy in San Diego this week. A small amount of the compound saved 90 per cent of the cells—and it worked against all 46 different variants of the virus that her team tested. “We hope this potency will extend into human clinical trials,” Patick says. Clinical trials of the drug, which will be taken as a nasal spray, should start within the next few months. While anyone with a cold could take the drug, the company plans to market it to people with cystic fibrosis and other such illnesses that make them particularly vulnerable to rhinoviruses. “It does seem to be very potent,” comments Ronald Turner, a rhinovirus specialist at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. But it’s hard to predict a drug’s potency or its side effects,
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