Researchers at The Pirbright Institute have helped in the development of a new molecule to treat a range of viruses including the common cold. In addition to the days of work lost due to illness, the common cold can cause complications in respiratory illnesses such as asthma and cystic fibrosis.
The common cold is caused by hundreds of variants of the same virus. This makes it almost impossible to make a vaccine against all of them. In addition, these viruses evolve rapidly meaning they can quickly gain resistance to conventional antiviral drugs. For these reasons, most remedies for the common cold virus rely on treating the symptoms of the infection rather than the virus itself. To overcome these limitations, researchers at Imperial College London, Queen’s University Belfast, University of Dundee and University of York worked with scientists at Pirbright to target the host of the virus instead.
The new molecule, described in Nature Chemistry, works by targeting a protein in the host called N-myrstoyl transferase or NMT. Many viruses require NMT to help construct their protein ‘shell’, or capsid, which protects the virus genome. Without NMT, these viruses are unable to replicate themselves.
Research by Amin Asfor, Joe Newman and Toby Tuthill at Pirbright demonstrated this drug was active against multiple viruses in the same family as the common cold, including poliovirus and foot-and-mouth disease virus and showed that the inhibition of NMT prevented viral capsids from forming.
There have been previous attempts to create drugs that target human cells rather than the viruses, but many have toxic side effects. Promisingly this research showed that the new molecule completely blocked several strains of virus without affecting human cells. Further study is needed to make sure it is not toxic in whole organisms, but targeting NMT could provide a strategy for the control of many clinically and economically important viral infections.