There is no existing cure for the common cold. The reason is simple: it is caused by a family of viruses with hundreds of variants, making it nearly impossible to become immune to or vaccinate against all of them. On top of that, the viruses evolve rapidly, meaning they can quickly gain resistance to drugs.

But there may be some new hope. A paper in Nature Chemistry discusses a new molecule, IMP-1088, that dual inhibits human N-myristoyltransferases NMT1 and NMT2 protein. Viruses 'hijack' NMT from human cells to construct the protein 'shell', or capsid, which protects the virus genome.

All strains of the virus need this same human protein to make new copies of themselves, so the molecule should work against all of them. Additionally, the molecule also works against viruses related to the cold virus, such as polio and foot and mouth disease viruses.

IMP-1088 (yellow) blocks human NMT (blue), a protein essential for the cold virus to assemble the geometric capsid 'shell' which encloses its RNA genome (green). Credit: Imperial College London

The molecule targets a human protein and not the virus itself, making emergence of resistant viruses highly unlikely.  In initial tests it is more than a hundred times more potent than previous molecules targeting the protein in humans. It also enabled antiviral activity against poliovirus and foot and-mouth disease virus.

There have been previous attempts to create drugs that target human cells rather than the viruses, but many have the side effect of being toxic. So far the new molecule completely blocked several strains of the virus without affecting human cells. Obviously it would have to survive real clinical trials before it gets to market.

Until then we'll have to settle for treating the symptoms of the infection. 

Citation: Aurélie Mousnier, Andrew S. Bell, Dawid P. Swieboda, Julia Morales-Sanfrutos, Inmaculada Pérez-Dorado, James A. Brannigan, Joseph Newman, Markus Ritzefeld, Jennie A. Hutton, Anabel Guedán, Amin S. Asfor, Sean W. Robinson, Iva Hopkins-Navratilova, Anthony J. Wilkinson, Sebastian L. Johnston, Robin J. Leatherbarrow, Tobias J. Tuthill, Roberto Solari&Edward W. Tate, 'Fragment-derived inhibitors of human N-myristoyltransferase block capsid assembly and replication of the common cold virus', Nature Chemistry May 14 2018 doi:10.1038/s41557-018-0039-2