New drug targets main culprit in common colds

The Melbourne drug company Biota has announced trials of a drug to treat the human rhinovirus (HRV) which is the main culprit in the common cold.

HRV is also linked to complications in asthma, cystic fibrosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and a compromised immune function.

The first trial will test an orally delivered and potent inhibitor of HRV in 200 healthy volunteers in the UK where each will be given either a placebo or one of three dose levels of the drug BTA798 before being exposed to an experimental rhinovirus infection.

This double-blind study will be carried out in a controlled quarantine facility and will check the viral count and cold symptom improvement.

The full results expected by the end of April 2009, will then be used to help select doses for treatment and prevention of HRV infection in later clinical studies.

Such studies with antiviral drugs expose volunteers to both an induced infection and the drug under study, and they examine the efficacy of the drug to either treat the infection or prevent the infection.

The effectiveness of the drug is usually measured by comparison to a placebo and volunteers must be both healthy and potentially susceptible to the induced infection.

Rhinoviruses can cause up to 50% of all adult colds, and are the predominant cold virus which affects children.

In most people rhinovirus infections are a minor inconvenience and are self limiting, but 75% of common colds suffered by children under 5 years of age in the US, require a doctor's attention and HRV is a major cause of hospitalisation and respiratory distress in individuals with chronic underlying respiratory conditions, including asthma and COPD sufferers.

HRV is suspected to be a culprit in 70% of all asthma exacerbations and more than 50% of the hospitalised cases and contribute significantly to the total cost of the disease.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S. and an estimated 10 million adults were diagnosed with COPD in 2000, while a national health survey suggests that as many as 24 million Americans are affected.

In 2000, 119,000 deaths, 726,000 hospitalisations and 1.5 million hospital emergency department visits were caused by COPD in the U.S. and research suggests that respiratory viruses are associated with more than 35% COPD cases needing hospitalisation.

Biota is a leading anti-infective drug development company based in Melbourne Australia, and initially developed the flu drug now called Relenza.

Biota is also in partnership with Daiichi-Sankyo for the development of second generation influenza antivirals.

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