Sorry, the common cold still has no cure. But the next best thing is in the works: a simple nasal spray to protect people from catching the sniffles.
If this treatment works out - and it’s still far from proven and years away from drugstore shelves - it will be a rare victory against an exceptionally wily enemy.
No medicine can make the ubiquitous head cold go away, not even chicken soup. And nothing can keep the runny nose, the aching sinuses, the sore throat and all the rest from striking in the first place.
But that may be changing. In recent years, scientists have learned a lot about how the cold virus raises havoc. And this new understanding is beginning to pay off with strategies that may at last fend it off.
The latest approach is intended to protect vulnerable nasal passages from invasion by the rhinovirus. It seems to work - at least in chimpanzees.
Whether humans will fare so well remains to be seen. The precise dosage is a future matter, too, but scientists believe they can develop a spray that will be squirted in the nose just once or twice a day to keep colds away through the worst season.
If the blocking agent pans out, it will be the first medicine that stops infection using the variety of the virus that causes about half of all colds.
“The idea is to take advantage of how the rhinovirus enters the body,” said Dr. Edward D. Huguenel of Bayer Corp., who heads the team developing the drug. He outlined the work Tuesday at an infectious disease meeting sponsored by the American Society for Microbiology.
About 100 varieties of rhinovirus exist. Catching one of these makes people immune to that particular bug. But they are still susceptible to all other strains. That’s why the average adult catches two or three colds a year.
The virus attacks through the nose. It latches onto a spot in the nasal lining that scientists call intracellular adhesion molecule-1, or ICAM-1.
The new treatment is a modified version of ICAM-1 in soluble spray form. When put into the nose, this protein swamps the virus with potential targets so it latches harmlessly onto the decoy rather than the lining of the nose.
“Molecular bait,” the researchers call it.
So far, it has been tested only on chimps, which are the only animals other than humans that are infected by the rhinovirus.