A Cure for the Common Cold?

I didn’t have a birthday party with my friends until I was 15. Every year, without fail, I would get a bad cold the day before my birthday (queue the violins and single teardrop). My mom used to yell:

      “Make sure you’re wrapped up warm or you’ll catch a cold!”

This is a popular misconception; the truth is you CANNOT catch a cold just from being cold. Instead, most colds are caused by the most common infectious agent among humans: Rhinoviruses!

We all hate the common cold; lying about while feeling miserable and falling behind at work is a pain. However, for children with asthma or cystic fibrosis, rhinoviruses cause more severe problems – such as exacerbations (a period of time when lung disease worsens).

Most treatments available merely reduce the symptoms of a cold, and antibiotics are often unnecessarily prescribed by doctors (these are anti-bacterial drugs, with no effect on viral infections). Unfortunately, there are no anti-viral drugs available for the common cold. Therefore, everyone could benefit from a cure, but just how close are we?

Most vaccines or anti-virals target up to only a few specific proteins (antigen) on the surface of a virus to effectively help the body fight off the pathogen. However, there are over 160 serotypes of rhinovirus – each with have distinct surface proteins. That is why the normal strategy doesn’t work so well.

Perhaps a less traditional approach is the key…


An Interview with the Expert:

A recent paper published in Nature describes a molecule known as IMP-1088, a potential cure for the common cold. I had the opportunity to sit down with the author; Dr Aurelie Mousnier of Queens University Belfast and find out more about her research.

– What is IMP-1088, and how does it work?

IMP-1088 is a new molecule that we developed, which targets a particular protein in human cells, called N-myristoyltransferase (NMT). NMT is required to help assemble the virus capsid – a shell which surrounds and protects the virus genetic material. Without NMT, the shell cannot assemble, meaning infected cells cannot produce new virus particles.  Therefore, infection of new cells is blocked.

IMP-1088 (yellow) stops NMT (blue) from helping the virus to assemble its capsid, which protects its genetic material (green). (Source: Nature)

– Cytotoxicity is the quality of being toxic to cells, often causing damage or death. Does IMP-1088 induce any cytotoxicity?

Only following long exposure times ( ≥ 3 days). However, if we treat cells in culture in the lab with IMP-1088 for a relatively short period of time (2 days), even with a high dose of IMP-1088, we do not observe any toxic effect on the cells. Importantly, after only 6 hours of treatment, we already see a strong reduction in the number of viruses produced.


– Where are we in terms of developing this into a drug?

It is still very early stage. We only studied the effect of the molecule in cells in culture in the lab. This showed that investigating this further is promising. But we have not tested toxicity or efficacy in humans. There are still a lot of parameters to test and optimize before developing a drug.


– If it was to become a drug, what would be the best way of delivering it?

Because, at the beginning of an infection, rhinoviruses infect the nose and throat, I think the best way to deliver a drug would be through a nose and throat spray. This should prevent unnecessary exposure of other parts of the body to the molecule. Such a delivery would therefore reduce potential toxic effects.

breath spray
The best way to deliver an IMP-1088 drug would be through a nose or throat spray. (Source: gfycat)


– Does IMP-1088 have anti-viral activity against any other viruses?

Yes, we found that IMP-1088 had anti-viral activity against viruses that are related to rhinovirus, such as poliovirus, and foot-and-mouth disease virus.

IMP-1088 diagram

– What is next for you in terms of your research?

My expertise is in fundamental research, so the development of NMT inhibitors into a drug is now in the hands of experts in that field.

On my side, with a technician and a PhD student, we are now trying to identify new proteins from human cells that rhinoviruses use to multiply, and which would be good new targets for the development of novel anti-virals. By targeting the virus through multiple angles, we should have better chances of combating it, as this is now the case for HIV treatment.

Group photo for Dean
Dr Aurelie Mousnier (left) is now searching for more host proteins that can be targeted to block rhinovirus infection. Working alongside her are Karolina Wojtania (Lab Technician) and Matthew James (PhD Student).

If you’d like to learn more or support the amazing research going on in Dr Aurelie Mousnier’s lab click













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