CHICAGO, Dec. 17 (UPI) -- An experimental medication stops sniffles and the other burdensome symptoms of the common cold one day faster than usual.
Treatment with the antiviral medication pleconaril -- which is awaiting approval from the Food and Drug Administration -- reduced the time from first symptoms to complete recovery from 7.3 days for people receiving a placebo pill to 6.3 days for people getting the active compound.
"Pleconaril is the first effective antiviral therapy for the treatment of the common cold," said Dr. Frederick Hayden, professor of internal medicine and pathology, at the University of Virginia Medical School, Charlottesville.
Hayden said, however, while pleconaril would help relieve symptoms, it fell far short of being the long-sought "cure for the common cold."
In the United States more than 1 billion common colds occur each year.
"Picornaviruses -- the virus attacked by pleconaril -- account for approximately one-half of all colds and many other serious respiratory illnesses," Hayden said at the annual Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, sponsored by the American Society for Microbiology.
The meeting is normally conducted in September but was postponed due to travel disruptions caused by the terrorist attacks in the United States on Sept. 11.
"A one day reduction in symptoms can be significant for patients," said Dr. Octavio Ramilo, a pediatrician at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, Dallas. "However, the real key to whether this drug is useful will be its cost. It may be difficult to translate these findings into clinical benefit."
"Deciding whether to use this drug will be a very individual decision," suggested Dr. Susan Coffin, a pediatrician at the Children's Hospital of Pennsylvania. She said that if pleconaril does not cost a lot more than an over-the-counter medication, it may have a great deal more usefulness than if the drug is priced three or four times more than the nonprescription medications.
Hayden and spokespersons for the drug maker, ViroPharma Inc., of Exton, Pa., said pricing has not yet been determined.
"There is also the problem of deciding if a patient is suitable for pleconaril," she said. In the study about one-third of the patients treated with the drug did not suffer from picornaviruses, and were not helped by the drug.
Overall, Hayden said in all the people treated with the drug there was a marginal improvement in outcomes -- reduced time until runny nose symptoms were alleviated. When scientists performed laboratory studies to determine exactly who had picornaviruses, then it showed that patients with the virus who were treated with pleconaril felt better faster than those on the placebo pills.
Hayden said there was a statistically significant difference among patients who felt better after 24 hours and after 48 hours as well as time to complete alleviation of symptoms. He said patients getting pleconaril also slept better and used about 25 percent fewer facial tissues during the course of the cold.
In his presentation, Hayden reported on two studies, each of which included more than 1,000 adult patients who self-reported they were suffering from a common cold. Patients who had allergies or fever were excluded from the study because those conditions would indicate the discomfort is not due to a picornavirus, he said.
Hayden said picornaviruses are present more frequently in autumn months so patients who show up at the doctor's office in October with a runny nose, but don't have a high fever would be likely candidates for pleconaril.
Because the drug is a prescription medication, Hayden suggested there might be a need to prescribe the drug before the cold season so that a patient could have it in the medicine cabinet for use at the earliest sign of the sniffles.
He said further studies are being performed in children -- the group most affected by the common cold -- and to see if giving the drug before symptoms can protect against suffering a cold at all.