PLECONARIL: The ‘Cure’ for the Common Cold?
A drug that appears to be a cure for the common cold and stops viral meningitis and deadly newborn infections is poised to enter the market within a year, the AP/Richmond Times-Dispatch reports. Pleconaril, manufactured by the Philadelphia-based ViroPharma, blocks an entire category of viruses, including the most common human virus, rhinovirus, which causes the common cold, and the second most common human virus, enterovirus, which brings about illnesses such as summer colds, meningitis, childhood fevers and polio. The drug is "the latest, and one of the most impressive, examples of [a] new way of creating medicines," the AP/Richmond Times-Dispatch notes. Rather than being "discovered," Pleconaril was designed by researchers who toiled through 1,500 versions of the drug before settling on the one that now is undergoing human testing. Dr. Catherine Laughlin, chief of virology at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said, "Pleconaril represents a class of drugs that were designed with the knowledge of the three-dimensional structure of the virus. It provides a lot of hope for the eventual design of drugs for virtually every viral infection."
The Wonder Drug
Although ViroPharma currently is conducting two large studies that will help determine FDA approval, the FDA allowed the company to dispense pleconaril over the past two years for infections that are life-threatening or especially gruesome, including enterovirus infections in babies and adults with persistent enterovirus brain infections. Doctors estimate that pleconaril aided 75% of these emergency cases. The University of Colorado Health Science Center's Dr. Harley Rotbart said, "Some of these patients had been ill for years, and they appeared to improve with seven to 10 days of treatment." Still, those cases "prove little about pleconaril's worth" and "large, carefully designed experiments" are necessary for FDA approval. ViroPharma hopes first to market a liquid version of pleconaril that cures viral meningitis. Smaller studies have shown that the drug begins to ease headaches within a day and patients began to feel completely back to normal within seven days. That form of pleconaril could be marketed by the end of 2000. The company hopes to be selling a pill version intended for treating colds by 2001. In one trial of about 1,000 patients, those taking pleconaril got better an average of 3 1/2 days sooner and had less severe colds. Dr. Frederick Hayden of the University of Virginia, who tested pleconaril, said, "Up until this point, there has been no proven antiviral therapy of documented effectiveness in common cold treatment" (Haney, 1/16).