At a medical conference Tuesday, researchers described the first
human testing of the latest attempt to thwart one of humanity's most
frequent and aggravating infections, the oh-so-common cold.
The fact it works at all is remarkable, given the exquisitely evolved perfection of the enemy, bugs that are really good at one thing, which is taking up residence in the nasal passages and raising havoc.
Indeed, this appears to be the first medicine that actually makes people feel better by attacking the virus itself rather than simply taming the body's own response to it.
The treatment, known in medical shorthand as ICAM-1, appears to reduce the sore throat, runny nose and all the rest by about half if taken around the time of infection.
By comparison, antihistamines, which are the mainstay of over-the-counter cold remedies, knock down symptoms by about one-third.
"This is still very early," cautions Dr. Ronald B. Turner of the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. "We've got a ways to go before we're willing to say the word 'cure."'
One obstacle to finding an effective medicine is that so many different bugs cause colds. The most common by far is the rhinovirus, which accounts for about 40 percent of them. But there are more than 100 different strains of rhinovirus.
A few years ago, scientists learned how almost all the rhinoviruses get into the body. They attach themselves to a particular protein on the cells of the nasal lining. Scientists call this protein "intracellular adhesion molecule-1," or ICAM-1.
The idea behind the new treatment is to spray it into the nose, where it serves as a sort of decoy, luring cold viruses away from their real target.
Two pharmaceutical companies _ Bayer Corp. and Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals _ are developing this approach.
Turner directed testing of Boehringer's medicine in a study financed by the manufacturer. He presented the results at a meeting of the American Society for Microbiology.
The researchers sprayed ICAM-1 or dummy medicines into the noses of 177 volunteers either seven hours before or 12 hours after exposing them to rhinovirus.
The researchers asked people to rate their misery, going down a check list of stuffiness, cough, headache and sore throat, among others. On every item, the people getting ICAM-1 felt better.
"It looks very promising, but whether it will prove to be cost effective and feasible is another matter," commented Dr. W. Michael Scheld of the University of Virginia.
For now, it appears the treatment may help if given to ward off bad colds in people especially worried about getting them. These might include athletes preparing for a big game, students studying for a test or parents whose toddlers bring home colds from day care.
It is likely to be most useful in the fall and late spring, when rhinovirus colds are unusually common. Midwinter colds are more likely to be caused by other kinds of viruses.
Turner said he does not know how long before ICAM-1 will reach the market, but he said it probably will be at least several years. Still unknown is how much the treatment might cost and whether it will help people if they begin treatment only after they start to feel a cold coming on.
Another cold-weather infection that can cause some of the same symptoms
is the flu virus. Here, too, there is progress. Last week, researchers
described promising results with a Glaxo Wellcome drug called zanamivir
that can cut a bout of flu almost in half if given soon after symptoms