Researchers zero in on a cure for the common cold

November 10, 2016

Scientists at Emory University have developed a vaccine they say may work well in preventing infection with rhinovirus-the top cause of the common cold.

A hot toddy and some chicken noodle soup may have been the way to fight a cold in the past, but researchers at Emory University are on a path that may lead to a vaccine against the common cold.

Researchers at Emory University are investigating a vaccine that combines dozens of varieties of rhinovirus to stimulate viral antibodies. It’s working in mice and monkeys, according to the study, titled “A polyvalent inactivated rhinovirus vaccine is broadly immunogenic in rhesus macaques,” published in Nature Communications.

“A vaccine for rhinovirus is doable, though we have a lot of work ahead of us before it could be put into practice,” Martin Moore, PhD, associate professor and director of research in the division of pediatric infectious diseases at the Emory University School of Medicine, told Medical Economics.

Rhinoviruses are the top cause of the common cold-more so than other viruses that can also cause colds-but it’s also more than that. According to a study in The Journal of Infectious Diseases, up to 80% of common cold illnesses are associated with rhinovirus, as well as 60% to 70% of asthma exacerbations in school-aged children. Rhinovirus infection also contributes to a number of other clinically significant progressions, including ear infections and respiratory complications.

Moore said a vaccine for rhinovirus could reduce asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) exacerbations, as well as colds and acute cough.

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Research on a vaccine against rhinovirus started in the 1960s but didn’t get far due to the more than 100 varieties of rhinoviruses circulating around the world. However, the early research showed that vaccinating against even one variety of rhinovirus offered protection against that virus.

So Moore and his team took the old research a few dozen steps further by combining 50 types of rhinovirus into once vaccine.

"If we make a vaccine with 50 or 100 variants, it's the same amount of total protein in a single dose of vaccine. The variants are like a bunch of slightly different Christmas ornaments, not really like 50 totally different vaccines mixed,” Moore stated in a press release.

Although animal testing proved successful in that the inactivated virus in the vaccine stimulated neutralizing antibodies, researchers were unable to determine in animal models whether the vaccine kept the animals from getting sick. The next step, Moore said, is to use human volunteers-a feasible study since the virus is not very pathogenic. 

The target population for the vaccine would include patients at risk of respiratory infections due to pre-existing conditions like asthma and COPD-particularly individuals that experience more than one COPD exacerbation per year. The vaccine would also be beneficial to healthy children and adults, but would likely initially focus on targeted populations, Moore said.

Moore isn’t certain how often the vaccine would need to be administered, but there were studies in the 1960s that showed natural rhinovirus infection and rhinovirus vaccines induced immunity for two years or longer.

As far as whether seasonal changes to the virus would affect the vaccine, Moore said rhinovirus is an RNA virus so it does mutate, but unlike influenza viruses, the serotypes of rhinovirus are stable and don’t drift like the flu.