"Viruses hijack the host to make more copies of themselves. This enzyme is one of the host enzymes that the virus hijacks," Roberto Solari, visiting professor at the National Heart and Lung Institute, Imperial College London, and a co-author of the study, told The Guardian.
The scientists discovered a new molecule – dubbed IMP-1088 – which directly targets the cells that allow the spread of the cold virus. In a laboratory trial, the molecule only took minutes to take effect on infected human lung cells.
Results showed that the chemical completely prevented the cold virus from replicating. Scientists experimented by adding the molecule one hour before, one hour after and then at the same time the infection was introduced. In each scenario, the method proved effective for at least three hours after infection.
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The molecule blocks a fat, which prevents the virus from packaging its genes properly, according to Solari.
"The virus still makes its own genes, it makes the coat, but the coat can't assemble so the virus can't replicate – you actually don't make infectious particles," he explained.
The scientists are now continuing their trials and working on developing a treatment that can be inhaled.
"A drug like this could be extremely beneficial if given early in infection, and we are working on making a version that could be inhaled, so that it gets to the lungs quickly," Professor Ed Tate, who was part of the team involved with the research, told 9 News.
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Tate also pointed out that while the cold is merely an inconvenience for most, it's a serious health risk to people who suffer with respiratory conditions.
"It can cause serious complications in people with conditions like asthma and COPD," he said. Researchers also added that in theory, IMP-1088 could be effective in treating polio and foot and mouth disease, as their viruses are similar to that of the common cold.
"Because the inhibitor targets proteins that are common to most types of rhinovirus [the common cold], it would likely have a broad range of activity, and be effective in treating rhinovirus infections in patients with existing lung conditions, such as asthma and cystic fibrosis," Peter Barlow, associate professor of immunology and infection at Edinburgh Napier University and spokesperson for the British Society for Immunology, told Newsweek.
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While the potential cure looks promising to many researchers, Solari said a marketable drug is still a ways off. It will also likely only be prescribed to individuals with asthma, cystic fibrosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or other severe respiratory conditions.
"There is a still a long way before this becomes a medicine," Solari said. "We haven't done any animal studies, and we obviously haven't done any studies in humans, so I can't tell you formally what the animal toxicity of this compound is."
Read the full study at nature.com.