- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 18, 2001

CHICAGO (AP) Scientists have developed the first medicine proven to reduce the length and severity of the common cold.
Whether this is the long-sought cure is debatable, since it doesn't make the sniffles disappear immediately. Nevertheless, experts say there is little doubt this medicine makes people feel better sooner if their cold is caused by a rhinovirus, the most common culprit.
The drug, called pleconaril, makes a runny nose completely clear up a day sooner than usual and begins to ease the symptoms within a day.
Many over-the-counter medicines ease cold symptoms by drying up plugged noses and soothing aches. But this drug is the first to actually make a cold go away faster and to work by attacking the cold virus itself.
The findings were presented yesterday by Dr. Frederick Hayden of the University of Virginia at an infectious-disease conference in Chicago sponsored by the American Society for Microbiology. The research was financed by ViroPharma Inc. of Exton, Pa., which is developing the drug.
The company applied in July to the Food and Drug Administration for approval to market the drug. A decision is still months away, perhaps longer.
Experts say they expect the agency to be unusually cautious, since any medicine to treat a nonlethal infection in healthy people must be extremely safe.
"The safety issues are dramatic," said Dr. Scott Hammer, a virus expert at Columbia University. "They will be looked at very, very carefully."
Nevertheless, Dr. Hammer said the drug's benefits appear significant, since a one-day reduction in a viral malady that lasts only a few days is probably the best that can be hoped for.
Dr. Hayden said he has seen no significant side effects from pleconaril. Some volunteers have a slight, temporary rise in cholesterol levels, which he said has "no clinical significance."
The company has not said how much it will charge for the medicine, which would be sold by prescription under the brand name Picovir, but officials said it is likely to cost as much as antibiotics, which typically are more than $40.
The medicine attacks a large group of viruses known as the picornaviruses. Among these is the rhinovirus, the bug that causes about half of all colds.
"It really represents the first effective treatment for a rhinovirus illness," Dr. Hayden said.
The medicine stops the virus by fitting into a groove on its surface. This jams the machinery it needs to enter and infect the body's cells.
The latest research is ViroPharma's second attempt to prove that the drug speeds recovery from the common cold. Its earlier study fell short of showing a statistically significant benefit.
In the latest work, conducted a year ago, people who felt colds coming on were randomly assigned to get pleconaril or dummy pills. In all, 2,096 persons started in the study within a day of the onset of symptoms.
Testing showed that two-thirds of the volunteers actually had caught a rhinovirus. In these people, runny noses and other symptoms completely went away in an average of six days, compared with seven days in the sufferers getting placeboes.
Volunteers were allowed to take their usual over-the-counter remedies. Nevertheless, those using pleconaril began to feel better than the others within a day of starting treatment. Their symptoms were half gone in three days, compared with four days among those getting dummy pills.
In general, Dr. Hayden said the medicine is likely to be most useful in the spring, summer and fall, when the rhinovirus is the dominant cause of colds.

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