A new cold treatment could thwart the virus by leaving it alone and targeting humans instead. The treatment, detailed Monday in Nature Chemistry, blocks a key protein in people that all cold strains need to replicate, upending the infection that's long vexed humanity.

And while a solution to the cold's runny nose and sneezing would be nice, the drug could make a life or death difference. That's according to Ed Tate, a chemist at Imperial College London, who worked on the treatment.

"This could be really helpful for people with health conditions like asthma, who can get quite ill when they catch a cold," Tate told the BBC, who called the treatment "a bit radical" for targeting the host, not the virus.

There are hundreds of versions of the cold virus, which the British researchers say makes broad vaccines impossible. And the virus also has a "rapid replication and high mutation rate," they note, meaning it adapts to drugs that target the virus itself.

But all cold viruses share a need for that specific human protein, researchers explain, known as N-myristoyltransferase, or NMT. Block that in humans, they suggest, and you should be able to upend all cold viruses. 

Early lab tests showed the treatment totally halted several cold strains, preventing the virus from latching onto NMT and copying itself to spread.

Those tests used human cells, however, the college notes: The team hopes to do animal and human trials later and ensure the treatment is not toxic to the human body. Human trials could start within two years, per the BBC.

"A drug like this could be extremely beneficial if given early in infection," Tate told the college, "and we are working on making a version that could be inhaled, so that it gets to the lungs quickly."

Follow Josh Hafner on Twitter: @joshhafner

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