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Cure for common cold possible

13th February 2009

Researchers in the United States have decoded the genome for 99 strains of the common cold, paving the way for a possible cure.

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Study co-author Stephen Liggett of the University of Maryland said the team had catalogued the vulnerabilities of the virus, and had pinpointed a potential Achilles' heel.

An effective treatment for the common cold could now be just around the corner.

Liggett, an asthma expert, said the findings could serve as a breakthough for asthma sufferers and those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Colds, caused by rhinoviruses, are linked to about half of recorded asthma attacks, experts say.

But the pharmaceutical industry may find the cost of developing such a treatment hard to swallow.

Antiviral drugs expert Glenn Tillotson at the Pennsylvania-based Viropharma said the typical cost of developing a new drug was around US$700 million, as well as long-winded processes required for funding and regulation.

An expensive cure for the cold is unlikely to sell, given that the inconvenience of the disease is fairly minimal.

Even Relenza and Tamiflu, antiviral drugs which help against influenza but which do not cure it, had not sold particularly well, industry experts said.

Cures for the common cold must also tackle the large variety of rhinovirus strains.

Now, Liggett and Ann Palmenberg, a cold virologist at the University of Wisconsin, have decoded the rhinovirus genome together with Claire Fraser-Liggett, publishing their findings in the online edition of the journal Science.

Asthma expert Fernando Martinez said he hoped to be able to identify for the first time which branch of the rhinovirus 'family tree' held the viruses most provocative to asthma patients.

Such targeted medications would represent an extraordinary advance, he said.

People at high risk from rhinoviruses, like children with asthma or adults with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, would benefit greatly from new drugs.

Liggett said the new data might even provide an opportunity to consider new vaccine approaches.

The rhinovirus has a genome of about 7,000 chemical units, which encode the information to make the 10 proteins that do everything the virus needs to infect cells and make more viruses.

Experts still say frequent hand-washing is the best prevention method for the common cold.

 

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