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Drug Shortens Bouts with Sniffles

Study says Picovir cuts cold infection by a day

TUESDAY, Dec. 18, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- Move over, chicken soup. A new drug helps dry up runny noses and speed recovery from the common cold.

The compound, called pleconaril, can shave a day off the length of most colds, say researchers who recently tested the compound. While that doesn't sound like much, experts point out that the patients studied were already well infected with a cold virus when they began treatment and that the drug holds enormous promise as a preventive therapy.

"I think it's going to be a major revolution in the way we live. The runny nose will be largely eliminated from our civilization," predicts Michael Rossmann, a Purdue University virus expert who has studied pleconaril and earlier incarnations of the drug.

Pleconaril, or Picovir, is being developed by ViroPharma Inc., of Exton, Pa., and Aventis Pharmaceuticals, of Bridgewater, N.J. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is considering whether to approve the drug, but has not yet done so.

Americans catch about a billion colds a year, or three to four per person, reports the National Institutes of Health. Roughly half of these are the result of infection with a group of microbes called picornaviruses, and in particular the rhinovirus branch of the family. In addition to causing colds, picornaviruses also trigger ear and sinus infections, as well as asthma and other lung symptoms.

In the latest work, a team led by Dr. Frederick Hayden of the University of Virginia compared pleconaril to dummy therapy in nearly 2,096 men and women with cold symptoms that included the sniffles and at least one other problem, such as coughing, sore throat or general malaise. Two-thirds of the participants tested positive for picornaviruses.

When started within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms, a five-day course of 1,200 milligrams a day of the drug shortened the average cold from a week to six days, Hayden's group says. Patients who took pleconaril also had 25 percent shorter bouts of respiratory discomfort -- roughly three days vs. four days -- than the untreated group, the researchers say.

Soon after starting on the drug, patients' overall symptoms were less severe and remained that way throughout the study, say the researchers, who presented the findings Monday at a meeting sponsored by the American Society for Microbiology in Chicago. Patients also reported sleeping better, using less cold medication and, in a blow to Puffs and Kleenex, using far fewer facial tissues.

Rossmann, whose laboratory was the first to detail the atomic structure of a virus -- a rhinovirus, as it happened -- says pleconaril works in two ways: it binds to cold viruses, making them too rigid to pass into cells, and it prevents the ones that do penetrate their targets from releasing their genetic material once inside.

Susan Brooks, an Aventis spokeswoman, says the companies are seeking FDA approval to market pleconaril in adults and expects to receive a preliminary recommendation sometime next spring. No price has been set yet for the pill.

What To Do: For more on the common cold, try the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases or HowStuffWorks.

SOURCES: Interviews with Michael Rossmann, Ph.D., professor of biological sciences, Purdue University, West Layfayette, Ind.; Susan Brooks, spokeswoman, Aventis Pharmaceuticals, Bridgewater, N.J. University of Virginia, Charlottesville, news release
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