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Scientists Make Progress on Development of Common Cold Vaccine

Can a vaccine be developed for human rhinovirus in its many forms? A new study suggests that it is possible.

As common as the “common cold” is, there is still no one cure for the rhinoviruses that are often the cause of coughs and congestion, but can a vaccine be developed for human rhinovirus (HRV) in its many forms? A new study suggests that it's possible.

In a recent study lead by Emory University researchers in Atlanta, Georgia and published in the journal Nature Communications, a team of scientists investigated the possibility of creating a vaccine that can inoculate against many forms of rhinovirus at once (there are currently 150 to 170 known distinct serotypes of HRV.)

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the common cold is responsible for most of the school days missed by children and most of the work days missed by adults in the United States. A cold often begins with a sore throat and runny nose and progresses into coughing and sneezing, often for up to a week or longer. On average, adults get two to three colds per year while children experience even more. As with most contagious infections, the best protection against a cold is praciticing good hand hygiene, avoiding those who are sick, and not touching the face with unwashed hands. The prospect of a vaccine for HRV is exciting because the best prevention measures can be hard to adhere to and the symptoms of the common cold are sometimes debilitating.

Past studies have shown that a monovalent inactivated vaccine for one variety of HRV can offer protection against that one form of the virus. The researchers in the present study wanted to test their hypothesis that a polyvalent inactivated vaccine for many rhinoviruses can effectively offer broad protection from co-circulating rhinoviruses. The two big challenges were generating such a broad immune response as well as the feasibility of composing such a vaccine, the authors noted. HRV has three species, known as A, B, and C. Through sequencing, researchers have identified 83 A types, 32 B types, and 55 C types. In this study the researchers focused on rhinovirus A.

The researchers created samples of polyvalent vaccines made with aluminum adjuvant for rhinovirus A, first testing a 10-valent vaccine and then a 25-valent vaccine in mice. They then tested a 25-valent vaccine in one pair of rhesus macaques and a 50-valent vaccine in another pair. They found that even in the small volume of vaccine needed for animal trials, they were able to demonstrate broad neutralization of up to 50 diverse rhinoviruses.

When speaking on whether health officials can someday track rhinovirus the way they track influenza to develop seasonal vaccines targeting circulating strains, study author Martin Moore, PhD, said, “We need a better understanding of the molecular epidemiology of rhinovirus types to answer that definitively. Unfortunately, the current data suggest that most or all of the types are circulating. But the good news is that the rhinovirus types do not appear to evolve or drift the way flu does. So we are looking at targeting many types that are stable.”

The research team will next be partnering with the National Institutes of Health on a product development plan for their vaccine along with a clinical trial. Due to the fact that rhinovirus has few serious complications, human volunteers are available and the researchers could learn a lot about the efficacy of their vaccine even in a first phase trial. “A likely path is to first develop the vaccine for patient populations that need it more, like children with asthma and adults with COPD,” explains Dr. Moor. “In those populations, preventing more serious disease that is often triggered by rhinovirus infections is a major unmet need. Over time, the vaccine could be expanded to otherwise healthy individuals.”