Friday, February 13, 2009
The New York Times reports on a breakthrough in the search for the cure for the common cold - results from the genomes of the various cold viruses. The story states,
Curing the common cold, one of medicine’s most elusive goals, may now be in the realm of the possible. Researchers said Thursday that they had decoded the genomes of the 99 strains of common cold virus and developed a catalog of its vulnerabilities. “We are now quite certain that we see the Achilles’ heel, and that a very effective treatment for the common cold is at hand,” said Stephen B. Liggett, an asthma expert at the University of Maryland and co-author of the finding.
Besides alleviating the achy, sniffly misery familiar to everyone, a true cold-fighting drug could be a godsend for the 20 million people who suffer from asthma and the millions of others with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The common cold virus, a rhinovirus, is thought to set off half of all asthma attacks.
Even so, it might be difficult to kindle the interest of pharmaceutical companies. While the new findings are “an interesting piece of science,” said Dr. Glenn Tillotson, an expert on antiviral drugs at Viropharma in Exton, Pa., he noted that the typical cost of developing a new drug was now $700 million, “with interminable fights with financiers and regulators.” . . .The industry has also learned in recent years that turning a genetic discovery into a marketable drug is far harder than once thought. . . .
Industry hurdles aside, perhaps the biggest reason the common cold has long defied treatment is that the rhinovirus has so many strains and presents a moving target for any drug or vaccine. This scientific link in this chain of problems may now have been broken by a research team headed by Dr. Liggett and Dr. Ann C. Palmenberg, a cold virologist at the University of Wisconsin. The researchers, who conducted the genetic decoding with the aid of Dr. Claire Fraser-Liggett at the University of Maryland, published their insights into the rhinovirus on Thursday in the online edition of Science. . . .
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. By comparing the 99 genomes with one another, the researchers were able to arrange them in a family tree based on similarities in their genomes.That family tree shows that some regions of the rhinovirus genome are changing all the time but that others never change. The fact that the unchanging regions are so conserved over the course of evolutionary time means that they perform vital roles and that the virus cannot let them change without perishing. They are therefore ideal targets for drugs because, in principle, any of the 99 strains would succumb to the same drug. . . .
There are at present no effective treatments for the common cold. Frequent hand-washing is the best preventive, Dr. Miller said. Once a cold has started, she recommended washing out the nasal passages, warm drinks and rest.