The common cold is so engrained into everyday life that it’s easy to forget just how, well, “common” it really is. American adults suffer an average of two to three colds per year and children catch even more, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
There are plenty of medications out there to treat annoying cold symptoms—but killing the viruses that cause it in the first place is a trickier feat. But researchers may have identified a compound that can stop some of the most common cold viruses, the rhinovirus, in its tracks, according to a new report published in the journal Nature.
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To be clear: The scientists’ work is early-stage. But the mechanism it uses to tackle colds is striking. Developed at the Imperial College London, the molecule targets a protein in human cells that cold viruses use in order to replicate and conquer. By targeting this specific pathway, the compound could theoretically be used to thwart most viruses (and since it focuses on human proteins, it may not cause the virus to mutate its way away from danger).
An effective common cold cure would be significant not just as a mass market health need, but in treating more vulnerable people.
“The common cold is an inconvenience for most of us, but can cause serious complications in people with conditions like asthma and [chronic lung disease],” said lead researcher Ed Tate in a statement. “A drug like this could be extremely beneficial if given early in infection, and we are working on making a version that could be inhaled, so that it gets to the lungs quickly.”
But first things first: Proving that the current petri dish tech can be safe and effective in humans.