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Common Cold Remedy May Treat SARS, say German Researchers - 2003-05-14

German researchers say an experimental drug developed to treat the common cold might also help in the fight the virus that causes Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. But scientists warn a SARS drug might not be available to the general public for a long time.

The potential SARS drug is a relative of a remedy to treat the common cold. Both the cold and SARS are caused by the corona virus. The cold drug is made by the pharmaceutical company Pfizer, which stopped production of the compound because it did not show promise.

Rolf Higgenfeld of the University of Lubeck led the research team. Dr. Higgenfeld thinks with a little molecular tinkering, the cold drug, known as AG-7088, might be effective against SARS. "We do see that the drug does not fit perfectly," he said. "And so the compound itself most probably will not be a drug to treat SARS, but it is a very good starting point for designing drugs that fit better to inhibit corona virus."

Dr. Higgenfeld says both viruses use an enzyme, or protease, to reproduce. As with the cold remedy developed by Pfizer, a SARS drug would fight the disease by blocking the protease. "You may say if you hit this target successfully, you have hit the Achilles' heal of the virus," he said.

Dr. Higgenfeld says researchers may soon have a protease inhibitor against SARS. But he cautions it may take months or even years for regulators to make sure the drug is safe.

AIDS drugs are another example of protease inhibitors. They work by blocking the enzyme that enables the AIDS virus, or HIV, to reproduce.

The German researchers reported their work in the journal Science.

Meanwhile, researchers in New York have announced they may be making progress in developing a drug that prevents the SARS virus from entering cells.

There is no known cure for SARS, a pneumonia-like viral illness that has killed more than five percent of the nearly 7,500 people it is known to have infected.