Problem: drug companies probably won’t make it – Scientists have now deciphered the instruction manual for the common cold, meaning we will be able to invent medicines to cure it, but the drug companies probably won’t bother to develop them since there’s not enough profit in it.

In an effort to confront our most familiar malady, a multi-institutional team of researchers reports the sequences for all of the 99 known strains of cold virus. The work to sequence and analyze the cold virus genomes lays a foundation for understanding the virus, its evolution and three-dimensional structure and, most importantly, for exposing vulnerabilities that could lead to the first effective cold remedies.

Researcher Ann Palmenberg says, “We’ve had bits and pieces of these things for a long time?We know a lot about the common cold virus, but we didn’t know how their genomes encoded all that information. Now we do, and all kinds of new things are falling out.”

The common cold is an inescapable, highly contagious pathogen. Humans are constantly exposed to cold viruses, and each year adults may endure two to four infections, while schoolchildren can catch as many as 10 colds.

The genetic sequence of an organism is a blueprint that carries all the necessary information for life. A sequenced genome can also show an organism’s vulnerabilities, information that can be used to design drugs that could potentially help prevent or mediate infection as viruses require access to host cells to do their dirty work and make new viruses. Palmenberg says, “We can predict which drugs can take them out.”

The problem is, it’s doubtful that drug companies will see enough profit in these potential drugs for them to invest the money needed to create them. In the February 13th edition of the New York Times, Nicholas Wade writes: “Because colds are mostly a minor nuisance, drug developers say, people would not be likely to pay for expensive drugs. And it would be hard to get the Food and Drug Administration to approve a drug with any serious downside for so mild a disease.”

Wade quotes drug expert Glenn Tillotson as saying that the typical cost of developing a new drug is now $700 million, “with interminable fights with financiers and regulators.”

He quotes drug expert Carl Seiden, who reminds us that “[the drug] industry might be loath to wade in [a cold cure] because Relenza and Tamiflu?two drugs that ameliorated flu but did not cure it?were huge commercial disappointments.”

Of course this might be because there is now a preventative for flu (a yearly flu shot), while there is no preventative for the common cold.

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