Attacking the Roots of Runny Noses

CHICAGO--As thousands enter the New Year sneezing and coughing from winter colds, one drug company says it might have something to offer. A new antiviral drug shortens the course of the common cold by 1 day, according to results from a large phase III clinical trial released here 17 December at the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy.

Americans spend $3.5 billion every year on cold remedies, which only target symptoms. The new drug, pleconaril, instead attacks a group of viruses called rhinoviruses that are responsible for about half of all colds. Developed jointly by ViroPharma Inc. of Exton, Pennsylvania, and Aventis Pharmaceuticals, headquartered in Strasbourg, France, pleconaril acts as a molecular glue, preventing rhinoviruses that have broken into cells from releasing their genes to be copied.

To test how well the drug controls colds in adults, Frederick Hayden of the University of Virginia School of Medicine coordinated a clinical trial on 2096 adults across the United States and Canada who had a moderate to severe runny nose and at least one other symptom, such as a sore throat, nasal congestion, cough, muscle aches, or general malaise. The patients were randomized to receive either drug or placebo and took the pills until their runny nose had eased up for 2 days.

Patients' self rating revealed that it took 2.9 days until their symptoms were half as severe as on the first day, compared to 3.9 days for the placebo. By the second day of the cold, rhinoviruses could be cultured from nasal mucus samples in 85% of patients taking placebo, but only 60% of patients taking the drug. ViroPharma, which funded the study, is also testing pleconaril on children suffering colds and trying to determine whether the drug can prevent colds altogether, says Mark McKinlay, the company's vice president of research and development.

Although the drug shortens the disease by only a day or so, "you can't expect a lot more with a disease that's measured in days," says virologist Scott Hammer of Columbia University. If the Food and Drug Administration approves peconaril, the drug could be on the market as soon as fall of 2002--in time for next year's bout of winter colds.

Related sites

ViroPharma's ongoing trials of pleconaril
Facts on the common cold