A hacking cough and runny nose are two symptoms of the cold doing the rounds. Image Credit: Supplied

London: A cure for the common cold could be nearer after British scientists successfully tested a drug molecule capable of killing multiple strains of the disease.

Until now it has been virtually impossible to vaccinate against a cold virus because the condition is made of up a large family of different strains. Remedies have instead focused on treating symptoms, such as a sore throat, but researchers at Imperial College London ignored the disease itself and instead targeted the human protein that is "hijacked" by all strains of the virus.

Leading experts last night said the results, which are published in the journal Nature Chemistry, held "great promise" for a practical cure. The research team will next test the drug in animal trials before moving on to humans. If successful, a new drug could be available within seven years.

The compound, IMP-1088, targets N-myristoyltransferase (NMT), a protein in human cells which cold viruses use to construct a protein "shell", which protects the virus genome.

The common cold leads to around 27 million days off work each year in the UK. Professor Ed Tate, who led the research, said: "A drug like this could be extremely beneficial if given early in infection, and we are working on making a version that could be inhaled, so that it gets to the lungs quickly."

Researchers envisage that, in its first formulation, the molecule would be made into a throat spray which people would use when symptoms are detected, similar to hay fever medication.

Dr Peter Barlow, of the British Society for Immunology, said: "While this study was conducted entirely in vitro, i.e. using cells to model rhinovirus [cold] infection in the laboratory, it shows great promise in terms of eventually developing a drug treatment to combat the effects in patients."