The cure for the common cold remains as elusive as ever. A federal advisory committee recommended recently that the first drug aimed at treating the cause of the cold rather than just its symptoms not be approved.
In a unanimous decision, the Food and Drug Administration's advisory panel on anti-viral drugs said there were too many questions about the safety of the drug, which is made by ViroPharma Inc., to allow its widespread use merely to treat an ail-away by itself. The drug, known as Picovir, has attracted attention because it directly attacks a family of viruses, known as picornavirus, that cause half or more of the billion colds caught in the US each year. The drug lodges into a pocket in the virus' coat, interfering with the germ's ability to infect cells and make copies of itself. Other cold remedies merely suppress symptoms, like drying runny noses or coughs. In clinical trials, Picovir shortened the length of the cold to roughly six days from seven. Patients took the pills three times a day for five days. First treatment, however, has to start within 24 hours of onset of symptoms, which some panel members said might be difficult for a drug that would be sold by prescription. The major concern, was that Picovir appeared to lower the effectiveness of oral contraceptives, which might cause inadvertent pregnancies. Some women taking both Picovir and birth control pills experienced bleeding between their menstrual periods. The panel also questioned whether the drug could be used by the general population because the participants in the clinical trial were mainly young, white, otherwise healthy women.