Researchers have analyzed and sequenced genomes that cause common cold


ROCKVILLE, Md. Researchers are one step closer to a cure for the common cold, though actually developing a cold cure may still be a little outside reality.

A team of researchers from the J. Craig Venter Institute, the University of Maryland School of Medicine and the University of Wisconsin, Madison on Thursday announced they have sequenced and analyzed the genomes of all known human rhinoviruses.

The benefits of treating the common cold outside of over-the-counter symptom relievers may be in patients with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease — the cold has been cited as a major cause of emergency room visits for patients suffering from these conditions. “The direct and indirect cost of treating these illnesses is billions of dollars yearly, thus finding new ways to treat and perhaps prevent these illnesses could substantially cut healthcare costs,” the researchers stated. 

However, with drug development costs ranging between $700 million and $800 million, coupled with the fact that influenza antivirals Tamiflu and Relenza have not lived up to initial analyst expectations, the likelihood that a common cold vaccine or antiviral will be developed is remote. 

Outside of what may be a poor return-on-investment analysis, developing a common cold cure-all may also be difficult because the rhinovirus evolves too quickly. Accordingly, co-infection with multiple viruses in individual patients can lead to the generation of novel rhinovirus serotypes, serotypes that may not respond to a vaccine or antiviral. 

But the research may be valuable beyond developing a common cold cure. The study provides the scientific community with an extremely valuable resource for studying viral evolution, suggested David Spiro, a JCVI researcher and one of the authors of the study. “It is a very exciting time in viral genomics.  Next generation sequencing technology will allow researchers to study as never before the evolution of viral populations worldwide,” he said. “The completion of the … reference data set will open the door to mass comparative studies of rhinovirus evolution and global migration patterns.” Further full genome analysis with potentially thousands of additional field strains should enable even better understanding of these viruses leading to improved antivirals and vaccines, Spiro suggested. 

The work was funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health and with internal funds from the University of Maryland, School of Medicine.

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