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A cure for the common cold? Culprit genome sequenced, but ...

Could the common cold become a thing of the past? Scientists have unraveled the genetic code for all 99 strains of the rhinovirus, but there may be a disconnect between excitement over the feat in the lab versus at pharmaceutical companies that would ordinarily develop a cure or vaccine against infection.

The discovery, published this week in Science, means that, in theory, drug or vaccine developers have a map of possible targets against the cold virus. "There is real promise now, based on full understanding of this virus, that we have never had before," study co-author Stephen Liggett, a professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, told the Baltimore Sun. "Let's get, perhaps, a single pill [that] will kill the virus that day, that moment, and within six hours you are cured. It is possible."

But drug industry analysts are less enthusiastic. The cold might knock you out for a week or so, but it's not a major health threat to most people, raising the question of whether patients would bother paying for medicine, notes the New York Times. Relenza and Tamiflu, two antiviral drugs against another common virus, the flu, do work, but aren’t big moneymakers for manufacturers. Add to that the $700 million cost of developing a new medicine, and companies might not bother, experts told the newspaper.

Nonetheless, Fernando Martinez, a professor at the University of Arizona, told the Times that "it would be an extraordinary advance" if scientists could make anti-virals against the forms of the cold most likely to sicken asthma patients, who suffer more than most people when they catch a cold. In the interim, a good night's sleep may stop you from catching cold. And short of that … there's always grandma's chicken soup.

Image of rhinovirus via Wikimedia

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